US Congressmen urge Trump to press Turkish President on human rights

Members of the US Congress have sent a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to press visiting Turkish  President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Turkey’s deteriorating human rights record.

In a letter addressing Trump sent on Tuesday morning, just hours before his meeting with Erdoğan, 81 US Congress members said, “As you prepare to welcome President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Washington D.C., we write to express our serious concerns about the continuing erosion of human rights and the dramatic decline of democratic values in Turkey.”

Representatives Bradley S. Schneider and Bill Johnson are the sponsors of the letter.

The letter expresses serious concerns about recent democratic backsliding and the erosion of human rights in Turkey and urges Trump to prioritize these critical issues during his meeting with Erdoğan.

“Turkey is a NATO member and an important ally of the United States, especially in the fight against ISIS, which is why as friends, it is necessary we express our concern for the respect of democracy and human rights,” Schneider said in a statement on his congressional website.

“This meeting with Erdoğan is a unique opportunity for President Trump to send a clear message that civil liberties and the rule of law are vital to a functioning democracy and critical to the future of Turkey and the region.”

In the same statement, Johnson underlined that Turkey has historically been a reliable ally for the United States in an extremely volatile region, providing invaluable strategic support to counter threats such as communism and Islamic radicalism.

“However, sweeping human rights abuses and undemocratic practices under President Erdoğan are undermining this partnership, and posing enormous challenges for the United States. It is imperative that the Trump Administration urge the Turkish government to change course, and to abide by their commitments to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.” he said.

The letter also underlined that journalists have been targeted as the Turkish media is subjected to censorship and intimidation by the Erdoğan government, and a recent referendum that expanded Erdoğan’s powers was held under a state of emergency in a tightly controlled media environment where critical voices from the press and civil society were jailed.

On April 16, 2017 Turkey held a constitutional referendum under a state of emergency in which opposition media and civil society representatives were tightly controlled and even imprisoned. Additionally, election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), who were tasked with evaluating the legitimacy of the election, found the election to be imbalanced and democratic freedoms curtailed. The outcome of the referendum resulted in significant expansion of executive powers in Turkey.

Prior to the constitutional referendum, Turkey’s democracy was under threat from restrictions on journalists and intimidation of members of the political opposition, and this has continued since April 16. According to Amnesty International, to date 120 journalists have been jailed and over 150 media outlets have been shuttered. In addition, the government has imprisoned parliamentarians and opposition party leaders and cracked down on ethnic minorities.

“As it is a critical moment for Turkey and the US-Turkey relationship, the United States must be candid and consistent in our support to democratic values and respect for human rights for the sake of Turkey’s future, as well as long term interests in the region of both the United States and our NATO allies. We therefore urge you to make support for Turkish democracy a priority, both in your meeting with President Erdoğan this week and in U.S. policy toward Turkey thereafter,” the letter said.


Also, New York-based Human Rights Foundation (HRF)  published a full-page ad in The Washington Times on Tuesday over the visit of Erdoğan to the US saying, “You are not welcome.”

Underlining that although Turkey was once a democracy, it has entered a downward spiral into dictatorship, HRF said President Erdoğan is to blame for the shuttering of 149 media outlets, the closing of 2,099 schools and universities, the firing of more than 138,000 civil servants, the jailing of over 50,000 government critics and the arrest of some 230 journalists.

HRF also tweeted that “President @realDonaldTrump should tell @RT_Erdogan and @serdarkilic9[Turkey’s ambassador to the US, Serdar Kılıç] that dictators are NOT welcome in America. #ErdoganOut.”


Meanwhile, Erdoğan and his counterpart Trump, made a joint statement in the White House on Tuesday, after Erdoğan arrived in Washington, D.C., amid strained bilateral relations over US support to Kurdish militia in Syria.

Erdoğan said during the event that Turkey would never accept Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) involvement in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria as it sees the YPG as a terrorist organization due to its ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Erdoğan is in Washington to try to convince the US president to reverse a recent decision to arm YPG militia in the fight against ISIL.

During the presentation of the joint statements, Trump revealed that Turkey had ordered “military equipment” in the US but provided no details.

Underlining that Trump’s election as US president has led to the awakening of aspirations and hopes in the Middle East, Erdoğan said, “And we know that with the help of the new administration these hopes will not be in vain.”

“We find it was the necessary answer to be given to the Syrian regime, especially in the aftermath of the gas attacks that took place. We will not repeat the mistakes of the past. We will continue down this path together,” he added.

Turkey-US relations also became strained after US authorities rejected the immediate arrest and extradition of Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish Islamic scholar and inspirer of the Gülen movement, which Turkish authorities accuse of plotting a failed coup in Turkey last summer.

Gülen has lived in a retreat in Pennsylvania since 1999 and has a green card to stay in the US. Despite several attempts by Turkish authorities, the US has not yet taken any judicial steps towards Gülen’s extradition and has demanded concrete evidence of a crime.

While Gülen continuously denied his involvement in the coup, Erdoğan and Turkish authorities launched a witch-hunt against followers of the movement that led to the detention of 100,000 people and the dismissal of more than 138,000 from state institutions.

During the joint statement Trump stressed that the US would offer support to Turkey in its fight against terrorism and praised Turkey’s efforts in the war against ISIL, while managing to avoid touching on any of their disagreements. (SCF with May 16, 2017

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