SEATTLE, Washington — Over the last few years, Turkey has seen a rapid erosion of its democratic protections and civil rights. After a failed coup, Turkey cracked down on everything from the freedom of expression to the freedom of the press. For that reason, Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts introduced the Turkey Human Rights Promotion Act (S.2832).
Turkey’s Coup and the Results
The executive branch under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken control over the country’s judicial branch, leading to arbitrary detentions and manufactured convictions of political opponents. These actions are in response to a failed coup in July 2016 against Erdogan.
To prevent future coups, Turkey largely curtailed the freedom of expression, association and assembly. More than 100 journalists are in detention or serving sentences for “spreading terrorist propaganda,” and journalists working for Kurdish media are disproportionately targeted. Most of the media allowed in Turkey is in line with Erdogan and his party’s views. The government can arrest people for social media posts criticizing the president. Turkey has also targeted defense lawyers, associating them with the alleged crimes of their clients and obstructing their work. Moreover, there are reports of cruel and inhumane treatment in the prisons, with many detainees being tortured.
The Turkey Human Rights Promotion Act
Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, along with co-sponsor Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, introduced the Turkey Human Rights Promotion Act to the Senate in 2019. The bill acknowledges the expansion of the government of Turkey’s powers and the crackdown on essential civil liberties.
The aim of the Turkey Human Rights Promotion Act would be to utilize diplomatic tools and pressure to ensure that political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, or people imprisoned for peacefully exercising their human rights without advocating violence or hatred, are released. Furthermore, the bill proposes funding for travel costs and legal fees for families of prisoners. It also aims to assist prisoners in gaining access to education and employment opportunities after release. Therefore, former political prisoners and prisoners of conscience can rebuild their lives.
The bill is valuable for people facing wrongful imprisonment in Turkey. It is also reassuring that the U.S. Senate is willing to take a stand against the Turkish Government’s human rights abuses and hold Erdogan’s regime accountable.
More Help is Neccesary
Turkey received around $180 million in U.S. aid in 2019, which is nowhere near the billions received by other countries in the region, like Jordan or Egypt, which each receive more than $1 billion in assistance annually.
Just as the government of Turkey needs to be held accountable for the torture and oppression of its citizens, it must also be held responsible for worsening economic and social conditions. And as a country with the ability to help, the U.S. must begin to view poverty as an issue of human rights, just like political oppression. Alleviating poverty is not charity but an obligation. Poverty is not inevitable but intolerable and conquerable.
Poverty leaves citizens open to exploitation and humiliation, if not by their own governments then by local cartels or terrorist networks. “It is the poorest people in society — those with low incomes, education, insecure health and political power — who are most vulnerable to severe abuses of their human rights.” Eliminating poverty is an essential component of giving the Turkish people political power and ending their inhumane treatment at the hands of their government.
– Teya Khalil