U.S. Congress members urge Blinken to hold Turkey accountable for human rights violations

Over 170 members of U.S. Congress, including prominent leadership, have released a letter urging U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to hold Turkey accountable for its "gross violation of human rights” and “democratic backsliding.”

The strongly worded letter, which is bipartisan in nature, levels strong accusations against the Turkish president and his government over their nearly two decades in the power.

The government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has moved "to weaken Turkey’s judiciary, install political allies in key military and intelligence positions, crack down on free speech and free press, and wrongfully imprison political opponents, journalists and minorities," it said.

The newly inaugurated Biden administration has already promised that it will bring human rights and democratic issues to the core of relationships in dealing foreign leaders.

The Biden administration is expected to convene a democracy summit later in the year. Last week, during his speech at the Munich Security Conference, President Joe Biden said partnership with allies would be based on democracy and a vision that upholds the rule of law, not transactionalism.

Biden also added that fundamental debate over the future will be between advocates of autocracy and those who understand democracy is essential to meet challenges.

“Strategic issues have rightfully received significant attention in our bilateral relationship, but the gross violation of human rights and democratic backsliding taking place in Turkey are also of significant concern," the letter by the members of congress dated Friday said.

The letter also called on the secretary of state to condition the relationship with Turkey according to Turkish strongman's behaviour.

"While it is in our mutual interest for the United States and Turkey to remain strategic allies and repair the rifts between us, we believe changes to President Erdogan and his party’s behaviour are vital to seeing that relationship restored," the members of congress said.

The letter recalled Erdoğan's visit to Washington during May 2017, in which half a dozen or more protestors were beaten in front of the Turkish Embassy Residence by Erdogan's bodyguards and supporters. Protestors later on sued the Turkish government for damages and the case is ongoing.

"President Erdogan’s government even brought its style to the streets of our nation’s capital, when during Erdogan’s 2017 visit to the United States, Turkish security personnel assaulted peaceful protestors and federal employees. Four of Erdogan’s guards still face charges in the United States for the incident. They remain at large in Turkey,’’ the letter said.

Turkey and the United States are at odds over a string of issues, starting with Turkey's purchase of Russian S-400 air systems. The letter did not touch on the issues between Ankara and Washington, but highlighted Erdoğan's government mistreatment of its citizens.

"Since 2016, more than 80,000 Turkish citizens have been imprisoned or arrested and more than 1,500 nongovernmental organizations have been closed to suppress political opposition," it said.

Two weeks ago, 54 senators in a bipartisan spirit released another letter, calling on President Biden to hold Turkey accountable for its crackdown on its citizens.

Among the members who signed letter, Congressman Gerald E. “Gerry” Connolly, who is the co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on U.S.-Turkey Relations and Turkish Americans, Adam Kinzinger, Adam Smith along with others.

House letter