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Marsha Blackburn, Chris Van Hollen Lead Resolution Condemning Turkey’s Crackdown on Free Speech

 

U.S. SenateWashington, D.C. – Today, Tuesday, November 12th, 2019, U.S. Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) introduced a resolution condemning Turkey’s crackdown on dissent related to its incursion into northeast Syria and broader freedom of speech violations.

“The Turkish government’s actions raise serious concern that it is using criticism of military operations as a pretext to further crush dissent and inflict fear,” said Senator Blackburn.

Senator Marsha Blackburn.

Senator Marsha Blackburn.

“Freedom of expression is essential to who we are as a nation. I am hopeful that as President Erdogan prepares to visit the United States tomorrow, he will feel the weight of the Senate on his shoulders, urging him to fulfill his government’s international obligations to allow free speech as his citizens seek to voice their opposition to the violence occurring at the hands of Turkish Armed Forces,” Senator Blackburn stated.

“I’m proud to join Senator Blackburn in introducing this resolution condemning President Erdogan’s torrent of human rights abuses, including detentions of citizens protesting Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria. We must be holding President Erdogan accountable for these abuses, not rolling out the red carpet for a White House visit. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this bipartisan resolution,” said Senator Van Hollen.

This resolution would:

  • Reaffirm the position of the United States that peaceful dissent should be protected under the right of freedom of expression in Turkey;
  • Condemn policies and efforts by the Government of Turkey to suppress peaceful dissent against military operations by the Turkish Armed Forces or policies instituted by the Government of Turkey;
  • Stand with the defenders of free speech and human rights in Turkey;
  • Encourage senior U.S. administration officials to raise the issue of suppression of free speech and media in Turkey at the highest levels, both bilaterally and multilaterally;
  • Encourage U.S. embassy and consular staff to attend politically motivated trials; and
  • Call on the government of Turkey to –
    • Immediately lift restrictions on freedom of expression, including expression online or in social media;
    • Ensure that criticism of the Turkish Armed Forces’ military operations or calling for peace – through media, social media, peaceful assembly, or other peaceful means – is not criminalized;
    • Drop all charges and end prosecution of individuals or groups for peaceful expression, including those expressing their opposition to Turkey’s military operations in Syria; and
    • Ensure that people can gather and protest peacefully, including by lifting blanket protest bans across the country.
    • Release all political prisoners, including five journalists and Turkish employees of United States diplomatic missions.
    • Respect the rights of Turkish citizens.
    • Elect their leaders through a democratic process.
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Background

Immediately following the incursion by the Turkish Armed Forces into northeast Syria on October 9th, 2019, the Turkish government began a coordinated crackdown on online dissent and issued blanket bans on peaceful protests of any form. Hundreds of thousands of citizens were interrogated on charges of terrorism for actions as simple as retweeting “Rojava will win, No to War.”

Additionally, the homes of journalists have been raided and criminal complaints have been filed against outlets criticizing the operation in Syria. Turkey remains the number one jailer of journalists in the world.

On November 6th, Senators Blackburn and Van Hollen joined Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) to write to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about reports of ongoing attacks against the Syrian Kurds by Turkey and its proxies outside of the designated safe zone. These attacks, if true, would violate the ceasefire agreements and should prompt immediate action from the Administration.

The largest Kurdish diaspora in the United States is in Nashville, Tennessee.


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