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Turkey: New Law Imposes Harsher Penalties for Violence Against Health Care Workers

(Apr. 28, 2020) On April 15, 2020, Turkey’s Parliament passed Law No. 7243 introducing harsher penalties for certain crimes committed against health care workers and their assistants. (Law No. 7243, art. 28.) Versions of the so-called “violence in health care” law had long been proposed by medical professional organizations and others in reaction to the high rate of physical and verbal assaults against health care professionals by patients and their friends and relatives.

The Ministry of Health documented 76,157 incidents of violence against health care workers from 2014 to July 2019, including both verbal and physical abuse, according to the newspaper Milliyet. The Ministry’s report was submitted to Parliament’s petitions committee in 2019. An earlier survey of health care workers conducted by Saglik-Sen, a public-sector trade union for health and social workers, found that 86.8% had been subjected to at least one violent incident in the workplace. A parliamentary investigative commission determined that such incidents are underreported, especially with regard to verbal assault, and recommended distancing victims from the criminal process by not requiring a victim complaint for prosecution, adopting increased sentences as a deterrent, and prosecuting violence against private health care workers as crimes against public officials.

Law No. 7243 amends supplementary article 12 of the Health Services Law by adding a provision that increases sentences by one half and precludes application of the “suspension of sentences of imprisonment” regime of article 51 of the Turkish Penal Code (TPC) to persons convicted of the crimes of intentional injury, threats of violence, insult, or preventing the performance of public duty when committed against public or private health care personnel and their assistants. The provision also excuses the victims of such violence from providing health services to the perpetrator or the perpetrator’s relatives if other health care personnel are available.

The crime of intentional injury committed against health care personnel in the course of their duties had previously been made a crime that prima facie justifies the suspect being held on remand under article 100 of the Criminal Procedure Code in a 2014 amendment of the Health Services Law. The same amendment, made by Law No. 6514, also provided that health care workers in private institutions are considered public officials for the purpose of prosecuting crimes committed against them in relation to their duties.

The Turkish Medical Association (Turk Tabipleri Birligi), which had been calling for anti-violence legislation, stated in a press release that it approved of the new law but thought it had shortcomings, such as the fact that its application is limited to health workers and their assistants and does not extend to other workers in the health care workplace such as security guards and janitorial workers.

According to Ministry of Health findings as reported by Milliyet, 4,033 perpetrators were convicted for acts of violence against health care workers between 2016 and July 2019, with a high of 1,968 in 2016 and a low of 51 in the first seven months of 2019. The decreasing trend in convictions in the face of increasing reported incidents of violence was criticized in a 2019 policy brief by the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the main opposition party in Parliament.