The US Senate urged the Biden Administration on Tuesday to apply pressure on Turkey regarding the country’s human rights record.
A bipartisan letter signed by 52 senators cited Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for marginalizing domestic opposition, silencing or coopting critical media outlets, purging independent judges and replacing them with party loyalists, and jailing scores of journalists.
The initiative for the letter to the White House was launched by Senators Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, and Florida Republican Marco Rubio.
“President Erdogan’s foreign policy has grown more belligerent and combative over time,” the letter reads.
Turkey sought to silence critics
“In recent years, he brazenly attacked U.S.-backed Kurds fighting ISIS in Syria, he purchased Russian air defense systems despite warnings that they were incompatible with U.S. technology, and he encouraged Azerbaijan to use violence to settle a territorial dispute with Armenia,” the senators wrote.
“President Erdogan has also attempted to pressure the U.S. and other countries into extraditing Turkish nationals, whom he blames for the failed coup in 2016.
“The Erdogan government has sought to silence critics in the United States like Enes Kanter, an NBA player and human rights advocate, by going after his family in Turkey and placing an INTERPOL red notice on him.”
The senators note that the United States has a significant opportunity to influence Turkey’s troubling human rights record because it is an important ally in a key region of the world.
“We believe that the United States must hold allies and partners to a higher standard and speak frankly with them about issues of human rights and democratic backsliding,” the senators wrote in their letter.
“We urge you to emphasize to President Erdogan and his administration that they should immediately end their crackdown on dissent at home and abroad, release political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, and reverse their authoritarian course.”
Tension with Turkey mounting
President Joe Biden’s pledge to put democracy and human rights at the center of American foreign policy faces a challenge with respect to Turkey.
Tensions between the U.S. and Turkey have been mounting for some time now.
But under outgoing President Donald Trump, many of the potential flashpoints between the NATO allies were smoothed over, thanks to a friendly relationship between Trump and Erdogan.
“The only thing holding the relationship together for the last several years has been Trump’s personal relationship with Erdogan,” Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told CNBC recently.
“With Trump removed, Erdogan should be very, very worried,” he added.