House lawmakers urge Biden to counter Turkey’s transnational repression campaign

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A bipartisan coalition of 142 lawmakers from the US House of Representatives sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Tuesday urging him to press Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to end his aggressive campaign of transnational repression, ahead of Erdoğan’s visit to Washington next week, according to a press release on the official website of Congressman Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey.

“We urge you, President Biden, to prioritize human rights and press the Turkish government to cease its transnational repression campaign, unconditionally release political prisoners, and restore the rule of law,” the lawmakers wrote. “Your intervention is crucial to upholding the values of democracy and human rights on the global stage.”

The letter details alarming instances of transnational repression by Turkey, including the forcible transfer of over 100 Turkish nationals since a coup attempt in 2016 and says that these individuals have faced torture, denial of legal rights and coerced confessions.

“Individuals associated with the Gulen movement, a faith-based civil society organization promoting interfaith dialogue and education, have been among those abused,” the letter further states.

President Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement since the corruption investigations in 2013, which implicated then-prime minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following the abortive putsch in 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

The lawmakers specifically highlighted the case of NBA player and human rights advocate Enes Kanter Freedom. The Erdoğan government has targeted Freedom by persecuting his family in Turkey and putting a bounty on him as well as many others.

“This further underscores the need for urgent intervention to address Turkey’s non-compliance with international law and its systematic human rights abuses,” the lawmakers said.

Citing the State Department’s 2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in Turkey, the letter emphasized the Turkish government’s coordination with other authoritarian regimes to forcibly transfer individuals and engage in abductions and renditions. Victims often endure torture, legal rights violations and coerced confessions before being deported to Turkey. These acts are publicly promoted and glorified by the government-led media.

The letter also provided specific examples of these abductions. Selahattin Gülen, a teacher, was abducted from Kenya; Koray Vural, a businessman, from Tajikistan. Orhan Inandi, chairman of a successful school network, was abducted from Kyrgyzstan and faced torture in prison, with Turkish media showing his broken arm.

According to a Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) 2023 report on transnational repression, since the coup attempt Erdoğan’s long arm has reached tens of thousands of Turkish citizens abroad. From spying through diplomatic missions and pro-government diaspora organizations to the denial of consular services and outright intimidation and illegal renditions, the Turkish government has been using a wide range of tactics against its critics overseas.

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