US Lawmaker Urges Kerry to Speak Up Against Freedom Violations in Turkey

NORTH KURDISTAN (TURKEY) – By Mahir Zeynalov – Todays Zaman – 2015-05-02 – A member of the United State Congress has urged Secretary of State John Kerry in a letter to speak up in defense of democratic ideals such as freedom of press in Turkey to create a more tolerate atmosphere for the media in the NATO ally.

“I write to express my deep concern about the persistence of human rights violations in Turkey,” Congressman Bill Pascrell said in the letter sent to Kerry on Wednesday, source said. He said he is particularly concerned by the continued detainment of members of the Turkish media and efforts by the government to censor the freedom of press.

On Thursday, Turkish academic and columnist was briefly detained after he anticipated that the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an will lose the battle against the critics. In addition, Turkish authorities sought to arrest two judges who ruled last week to release journalist Hidayet Karaca, who is also the executive of the STV network.

Pascrell said the Turkish government has attracted international attention in recent months with the detention and arrest of Zaman editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanl? and Karaca on “questionable charges.” He added that both journalists lead major news organizations that has been critical of the government and covered allegations of corruption. He also recalled that the government suspended the judges who ruled to release Karaca, “adding concern about medling in the judiciary to this troubling case.”

Freedom House President Mark P. Lagon told Today’s Zaman on Wednesday that independence of judiciary and law enforcement agencies are ongoing concerns regarding Turkey. The arrest of judges who ruled to release journalist Karaca has been largely interpreted by observers as a warning to other members of the judiciary that they may face jail if they issue verdicts that stand in contrast to the wishes of the government.

Pascrell said in the letter that a strong democracy requires all members of society respect the freedom of expression, even when voices opposed to the government are vocal. “The continued willingness to take steps to limit freedom of expression, restrict freedom of assembly, erode human rights and the rule of law in Turkey in unacceptable and I hope that you will address this issue as you engage with the Turkish government,” the congressman urged Kerry.

The letter from Pascrell follows three similar letters from both chambers of the US legislative body. On February 2, 90 members of the House sent a letter to Kerry to urge him to speak louder in defending free press in Turkey. In a response letter, the State Department said the US government shares the concerns of the lawmakers. On March 18, another letter, this time signed by 74 Senators, was sent to Kerry. The letter also asked Kerry to raise the issue of press freedom with his Turkish counterparts. The State Department confirmed that Kerry discussed the ongoing concerns with respect to freedoms in Turkey with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlüt Çavu?o?lu, who was in Washington ten days ago. In March, another letter, signed by five Congressmen, was sent to Kerry, asking him to defend independence of judiciary and free media and urged him to work with Turkish civil society organizations to further democratic ideals in NATO ally Turkey.

Pascrell cited the Human Rights Watch’s 25th annual World Report, which said the Turkish government intensified its interference in the criminal justice system, reassigned judges, prosecutors, and police, and clamped down on Internet freedom. “Readiness to limit freedom of expression, restrictive approach to freedom of assembly, and readiness to prosecute demonstrators while tolerating police violence against them, were among features most damaging to Turkey’s democratic credentials and international reputation during the year,” the report further said. he congressman said the actions have had, and continue to have, “a chilling effect” on news coverage in Turkey. As a strategic ally to the US in the Middle East, and key member of NATO, Pascrell said he wishes to see the Turkish government abandon this course of intimidation and embrace a free press which includes dissenting voices. It should be a priority of the US, he added, to encourage the Turkish government to fulfill the responsibilities and obligations to their own people. “As a result, I urge you to speak up in defense of democratic ideals such as freedom of speech, free press and free expression to create a more tolerate atmosphere for the media in Turkey,” Pascrell concluded.