Turkey: Charges against whistleblower who exposed public health dangers must be dropped
Ahead of the expected verdict for academic Dr Bülent Şık, who faces up to twelve years in jail for “disclosing classified information” after revealing the findings of his research that exposed toxic pollution that was a risk to public health, Amnesty international’s Senior Campaigner on Turkey Milena Buyum said:
“As a scientist, Dr Bülent Şık believed he had a duty to ensure that his research findings revealing the presence of carcinogenic pesticides and other toxins in agricultural products and water, were in the public domain.
“Rather than suppressing the findings and prosecuting Dr Şık, the Ministry of Health and other relevant authorities should be taking the necessary urgent action to tackle this environmental pollution and protect public health.
“Dr Şık publicized his findings because the authorities failed to act upon them. His actions are protected under the right to freedom of expression which includes the right to freely disseminate and receive information. If found guilty and imprisoned, Amnesty International would consider him a prisoner of conscience.”
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The hearing will be held on 26 September, and a verdict is expected.
Dr. Bülent Şık is facing criminal charges for publishing the findings of his research in a series of four articles in Cumhuriyet newspaper in April 2018.
In the series, Dr, Şık, a food engineer, a former academic and deputy director of the Food Safety and Agricultural Research Centre at Akdeniz University, published the results of a study he carried out with other scientists for the Ministry of Health between 2011 and 2015, looking for a correlation between toxicity in soil, water and food stuffs and the incidence of cancer in a region in western Turkey. The study showed higher than acceptable levels of toxicity due to the presence of pesticides in ground and surface water and the soil.
The study found health-threatening levels of pesticides, heavy metals, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in multiple food and water samples. In some residential areas, the water was totally undrinkable because of lead, aluminum, chrome and arsenic pollution.
Once the study was completed in 2015, Dr Şık raised the seriousness of the findings in a meeting where the findings of the study were discussed in the presence of Ministry of Health officials and asked that they are acted upon. By 2018, when he realised that the Ministry of Health had not taken measures to protect public health, he decided to publish the findings of the study.
If found guilty, Dr Bülent Şık faces between 5 and 12 years in prison for ‘disclosure of confidential information in respect of a duty’, ‘securing prohibited information’ and ‘disclosure of prohibited information’ under articles 258, 334 and 336 of the Turkish penal code.