US Rep. Pascrell slams decision to drop charges against Turkish president’s bodyguards

Ceren Borazan on May 24, 2017, tells Rep. Bill Pascrell about being thrown to the ground and kicked by security guards protecting Turkey's autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during a May 16 protest outside the Turkish embassy.

The rule of law must take precedence over political expediency in the case against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s bodyguards, said US Rep. Bill Pascrell, a Democrat from New Jersey, according to a report by US news website northjersey.com.

Calling for a federal investigation into the dropping of charges against 11 out of 15 bodyguards indicted for assault on protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington, D.C., Pascrell wrote in a letter to Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz that “The fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of free speech and peaceful assembly were undermined by members of the Turkish President’s security team aggressive and unprecedented attacks,” adding, “Justice must be served for those who were brutally attacked, which included a constituent of mine who was choked by one of the bodyguards.”

US prosecutors had asked that charges against four of the men be dropped last November, with charges against seven others tossed out on Feb. 14, a day before then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Ankara for crucial talks. The timing of events led to skepticism over the reasons for the charges being dropped, though Heather Nauert, the State Department spokesperson, said the timing was purely coincidental.

The assaults are alleged to have taken place last May during a visit by Erdoğan. Among those who required hospital treatment was Ceren Bozaran, the person described in Pascrell’s letter. She said one of Erdoğan’s bodyguards had placed her in a headlock so tight it burst a blood vessel in her eye. The bodyguard also threatened to kill her, she said, putting her in fear of her life.

According to Pascrell’s letter to the US Department of Justice on Thursday, “These actions are unacceptable in any circumstances. They represent an affront to our American values and core democratic freedoms of free speech and peaceful assembly.”

The House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution in June condemning the attack and calling for charges against the security guards. Later that summer, 15 Turkish security guards were indicted. Their indictment earned the rebuke of Erdoğan.

Charges were reportedly dropped against seven of the guards in February, the day before Tillerson’s visit to Turkey to meet with Erdoğan. Charges against four additional guards were dismissed in November, according to news reports.

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