WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week, U.S. Representatives Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Liz Cheney (R-WY) introduced the Turkey Human Rights Promotion Act of 2021. The bipartisan, bicameral legislation would assert that the Government of Turkey must uphold the rule of law by taking steps to end arbitrary killings and torture, improve freedom of the press, permit free expression on social media and in person, promote a fair and independent judicial system, protect lawyers and judges and uphold human rights. The legislation will also be introduced in the Senate by Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR).
Human rights abuses intensified in Turkey after a 2016 attempted coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Since then, the government cracked down on freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly to silence journalists, political opponents, dissidents, civil society activists and minorities throughout Turkish society, both within and outside of its borders.
“The United States cannot allow human rights abuses to go unanswered, especially from a NATO ally,” said Rep. Jeffries. “We must stand with the Turkish people and demand that President Erdoğan’s government stop the torture and killings, allow for freedom of the press, permit free expression and promote an independent judiciary to uphold the rule of law. I thank Congresswoman Cheney and Senators Markey, Wyden and Merkley for joining me in introducing this important piece of legislation.”
“For too long the Erdogan regime has sought to silence dissent, thought, and expression in Turkey by imprisoning opposition and suppressing human rights,” said Rep. Cheney. “The Erdogan regime must be held accountable for these abuses. I am proud to sponsor this legislation to stand for a free press and denounce the Turkish government for repressing freedom within their country.”
Since 2016, The Government of Turkey has dismissed or suspended more than 60,000 police and military personnel, 125,000 civil servants, one-third of the judiciary, arrested or imprisoned more than 90,000 citizens and closed more than 1,500 nongovernmental organizations on sham charges.
“President Erdogan’s free pass from the Trump White House to commit abuses has officially expired,” said Sen. Markey, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “The United States must 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. I am pleased that Representatives Jeffries and Cheney have introduced a House companion to the Turkey Human Rights Promotion Act to call on President Biden to use all diplomatic tools to signal that the United States will stand up for journalists, activists, and civil society leaders, and will stand up in opposition to Turkish officials who direct or carry out systematic human rights abuses.”
“America cannot stand idly by while President Erdogan tramples on the rights and freedoms of people in Turkey,” Sen. Wyden said. “Our bipartisan bill will hold the Turkish government accountable for its human rights abuses against Turkish citizens, journalists and political rivals.”
“President Erdogan’s track record of democratic backsliding and politically-motivated detentions of journalists, civil society leaders, and members of the political opposition are a serious affront to the most basic rights of freedom of expression and due process that every human being deserves,” said Sen. Merkley, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “It’s clear that the United States must take a stand against these disturbing actions and use diplomatic tools to pressure Turkey to release political prisoners and repeal dangerous anti-terrorism laws.”
Specifically, the legislation:
- 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 in Turkey.
- Makes it a Statement of Policy for the United States to support democracy, peace and prosperity in Turkey and to oppose the Government of Turkey’s attack on freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.
- Expresses the Sense of Congress that the Government of Turkey must:
- Take steps to significantly improve the dire climate for journalists and those supporting the journalism profession;
- Cease its ongoing crackdown on free expression on the internet, including by repealing or amending laws that allow the government to block a website or remove content from the website and
- 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) European Convention on Human Rights and Turkey’s other international human rights obligations.
- Expresses the Sense of Congress that, if the Government of Turkey does not take effective steps to address its human rights violations,
- The President of the United States should impose sanctions pursuant to the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act with respect to officials of the Government of Turkey found responsible for the detention of prisoners of conscience and political prisoners, politically motivated detention of journalists, restricting freedom of expression through social media 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, as the Government of Turkey is reported to have done and
- The Secretary of the Treasury should direct United States 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.