WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to President Trump this week asking him to get tough on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the face of crumbling democracy in the republic and gross human-rights violations.
Erdogan’s post-coup purge of perceived enemies has extended to U.S. diplomatic staff, with Metin Topuz, a communications officer at the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, arrested earlier this month and charged with espionage.
This week a warrant was issued for another U.S. Consulate employee, Mete Cantürk, on allegations of links to Pennsylvania-based scholar and Erdogan foe Fethullah Gülen. When Turkish authorities didn’t find Cantürk at his home, they arrested his wife and child.
“This now accounts for three separate incidents this year that the Turkish government has arrested a Turkish staff member of our diplomatic mission with little, if any, evidence of wrongdoing. It is completely unacceptable for the Turkish government to arbitrarily harass or arrest anyone, especially employees of our diplomatic missions and their families,” wrote Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.).
The letter was co-signed by Sens. Martin Heinrich (R-N.M.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).
“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 wider region,” the senators wrote, adding that 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 Journal reporter Ayla Albayrak to two years in prison in absentia.”
Highlighting the May attack on peaceful protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in D.C., the lawmakers also noted that the regime is “exporting this brutality to our soil.”
“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,” they added. “We urge you to send a clear message to President Erdogan 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.”