US senators introduce legislation calling for sanctions on Turkish officials violating human rights

(From Left) Senators Edward Markey, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley

Three US senators on Thursday announced the introduction of the “Turkey Human Rights Promotion Act of 2021,” legislation condemning human rights abuses carried out by the Turkish government, which intensified after a coup attempt in July 2016.

The bill, which was introduced by Democratic senators Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, calls for sanctions on officials who violate basic human rights to further the Erdoğan government’s campaign to purge opposition.

“The Government of Turkey, under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has engaged in a brazen campaign to silence journalists, political opponents, dissidents, civil society activists, and minorities throughout Turkish society, as well as targeting Turkish citizens outside of its borders.” a press statement published on Senator Markey’s website said. “This legislation makes it clear that the United States should use its considerable leverage with this NATO ally to prevent a further erosion of hard-fought democratic progress in Turkey.”

The legislation specifically directs the secretary of state to provide assistance to civil society organizations in Turkey that work to secure the release of prisoners of conscience and political prisoners. It also makes it a Statement of Policy for the United States to support democracy, peace and prosperity in Turkey and to oppose the Erdoğan government’s attack on freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association.

The bill asks the Turkish government to improve human rights in Turkey including taking steps to significantly improve the dire climate for journalists; cease its ongoing crackdown on free expression on the Internet; halt its indiscriminate detention and prosecution of lawyers, judges and prosecutors; and fulfill its obligations under the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

“President Erdogan’s free pass from the Trump White House to commit abuses has officially expired,” said Senator Markey, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “The United States will once again speak out forcefully and take steps to hold the Erdogan government accountable for its campaign to silence opposition by censoring social media, clamping down on free speech, and locking away critics. This legislation makes clear that President Biden must use all diplomatic tools to signal – unmistakably – that the United States comes down on the side of journalists, activists, and civil society leaders, and will stand up in opposition to Turkish officials who direct or carry out systematic human rights abuses.”

The legislation expresses the Sense of the Senate that if the Turkish government fails to take effective steps to address its human rights violations, the president should impose sanctions pursuant to the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act with respect to Turkish officials responsible for the detention of prisoners of conscience and political prisoners and other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights; the secretary of state should impose visa restrictions under the so-called “Khashoggi Ban” for those engaged in serious extraterritorial counter-dissident activities; and the treasury secretary should direct US executive directors of key international financial institutions to oppose any loans, grants, policies or strategies determined to be enabling the government of Turkey to violate the human rights of its citizens.

Senator Merkley, also a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said: “The United States cannot stay silent in the face of this disturbing behavior. We must use the diplomatic levers available to us to ensure that Turkey’s political prisoners are released, and that dangerous anti-terrorism laws are repealed.”

“Senators Markey, Merkley and I are renewing our call for accountability because America cannot stand by while partners and allies systematically violate basic freedoms,” said Senator Wyden.

“This bill offers a glimmer of hope for the thousands of innocent victims in Turkey being denied basic human rights,” NBA star and human rights activist Enes Kanter is quoted as saying in the press release. “Thousands of journalists, professors, lawyers, and many others are locked in Turkish prisons simply for speaking up against the lawless dictator Erdogan. Even my own father was a political prisoner, and I am personally facing political charges, all for speaking the truth about an oppressive, corrupt government. This bill brings us a step closer to justice, rule of law, and freedom.”

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