US senators urge Trump to demand Turkey’s Erdoğan respect human rights

A group of US senators led by John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Bob Menendez, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued a bipartisan letter to President Donald Trump on Wednesday calling on the administration to urge Turkish autocratic President Tayyip Erdoğan to stop harassing employees of the US diplomatic mission in Turkey, to respect human rights and to uphold democratic values, Senator McCain’s official website announced on Wednesday.

Citing several recent incidents including the arbitrary arrest of two US Consulate employees and the attempted arrest of a third, the detention of top Amnesty International officials, the sentencing by a Turkish court of Wall Street Journal reporter Ayla Albayrak and the brutal attack by Turkish security personnel on peaceful demonstrators protesting Erdoğan’s visit to Washington, D.C., the senators urged President Trump to demand that the Erdoğan government respect human rights and the rule of law.

The letter was co-signed by Senators Ben Cardin, John Boozman, Chris Van Hollen, Marco Rubio, Richard Durbin, John Cornyn, Chris Coons, Martin Heinrich, Edward Markey, Tammy Baldwin, Jeanne Shaheen and Bernard Sanders. 

Underlining the increasing level of human rights violations in Turkey by the Erdoğan regime, the letter said:

“We recognize Turkey’s strategic importance as a longtime NATO ally and a traditional source of stability and democratic values across the Middle East and the wider region. However, over the past several years, Erdogan and his allies have corroded Turkey’s democracy by mounting an assault on the rule of law, using sweeping state of emergency authorities to stifle fundamental rights including free speech, undermining the independence of the judiciary, and quashing any expressions of opposition. In addition to the arrest of our consulate staff, Turkish authorities have arrested top officials of Amnesty International, and sentenced Wall Street Journalist Ayla Albayrak to two years in prison in absentia.”

In the bipartisan letter to the Trump administration, President Erdoğan was also accused of bringing brutality to American soil:

“The Erdogan government is exporting this brutality to our soil. In May, a pro-Erdogan group, which included Erdogan’s security personnel, brutally attacked peaceful demonstrators on Lafayette Square who gathered to protest the visit of President Erdogan to the United States. Nine people were hospitalized, and as far as we know, there was no disciplinary action taken against the security personnel nor a public condemnation from your Administration.”

The senators’ letter ended with a strong emphasis on a demand for a relationship between the US and Turkey “based on a shared commitment to human rights and rule of law”:

“We support the State Department’s decision to suspend non-immigrant visa services at our Embassy and Consulates in Turkey, but encourage you to take steps to mitigate potential impacts on those members of society who may rely on those services. We urge you to send a clear message to President Erdoğan that the United States will not tolerate this type of behavior and that any cooperation must be based on a shared commitment to human rights and rule of law.”

On May 16, members of President Erdoğan’s security detail took part in a violent brawl with a group of protesters outside the residence of the Turkish ambassador in Washington while Erdoğan was paying an official visit to the country. At least 11 protesters were injured.

The D.C. Metropolitan Police Department released a video of “persons of interest” believed to be in Erdoğan’s security detail who were involved in the attack on protesters. The police department also issued a wanted list for President Erdoğan’s bodyguards as criminal suspects for their attacks on protesters on May 16.

Indictments have been issued for 19 people, including 15 members of Erdoğan’s security detail, for attacking the protesters in Washington, D.C.

The indictments, which were announced in August, accuse the perpetrators of attacking people who were protesting the visit of Erdoğan and of committing a crime of violence. Some of them also face charges of assault with a deadly weapon. While 16 defendants were charged in June, three new defendants, all of whom are Turkish security officials, were added to the indictment.

The US House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution in May condemning the outrageous and abusive actions of the Turkish security personnel in the violence outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence.

The House Committee on Foreign Affairs also sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson requesting that he take steps to ensure that another violent incident involving the security detail of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would not take place during Erdoğan’s visit to New York for the UN General Assembly on Sept. 12. “We must ensure that Turkish National Police and accompanying security personnel respect the laws of the United States and refrain from any aggressive actions that are unrelated to the protection of the Turkish President,” said the letter. The representatives also requested that “those security personnel indicted for assaulting peaceful protestors will be denied visas to enter the United States as part of an official delegation.”

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