Turkish scientist sent to prison for publishing environmental study on cancer risk

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A Turkish scientist and human rights activist, who published a report on toxic pollution linked with a high risk of cancer, has been awarded a 15 months prison term, a report has said.

Bülent Şık, former deputy director of the Food Safety and Agricultural Research Center at Akdeniz University, was charged with disclosing classified information after he published, along with other colleagues, the findings in a Turkish newspaper in April last year after realizing the government was not acting on the findings.

The results of the study carried out for the Ministry of Health between 2011 and 2015 linked the toxicity in soil, water and food with a high risk of cancer in several western Turkey provinces.

"Bülent Şık fulfilled his duty as a citizen and a scientist, and used his right to freedom of expression," Can Atalay, his lawyer, argued before he was handed down the sentence by AN Istanbul court.

After the verdict, the scientist told the media the study revealed the extent to which "water resources were contaminated by toxic materials" and the ruling showed the findings directly concerning the public health could be "hidden" and punished for. "This is unacceptable," Sik said.

Terming the sentence a "travesty of justice", Amnesty International, as well as, other human rights groups and environmentalists accused the government of failing to enforce environmental regulations, ScienceX reported.

The report mentioned pollution from the industrial zone of Dilovasi, about 80 km from Istanbul and home to many chemical and metallurgy industries, as the main cause of cancer well above the international average in the region.

The findings said dangerous levels of pesticides, heavy metals, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were present in food and water samples across several provinces of western Turkey.

The water resources were contaminated with lead, aluminum, chrome, and arsenic pollution, it said, urging the government to take immediate action.

Scores of Turkish scientists and individuals have been facing a crackdown on many aspects of freedom of speech since the failed coup in 2016 against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.