Bilirakis Urges Action to Protect Human Rights  

Washington, DC:  Today, Congressman Bilirakis co authored a bi-partisan letter to President Donald Trump regarding charges faced by Amnesty International Turkey’s Chair and Director as well as other leading human rights defenders in Turkey. As Co-Vice Chairman of the Religious Freedom Caucus, Congressman Bilirakis has a long-standing record of combatting persecution in all forms.  In this case, he has grave concerns about Turkey’s ongoing politically-motivated persecution of human rights defenders.  Last June 6th, Turkish authorities detained the Chair of Amnesty International Turkey, and remanded him to pre-trial detention.  On July 5th, Turkish police detained 10 more human rights defenders while they were participating in a routine human rights workshop. Those arrested on July 5th are collectively known as the Istanbul 10 and include some of Turkey’s leading human rights figures.  In addition, two foreign trainers were also arrested.  All those arrested are indicted on the charge of “membership of a terrorist organization.” If convicted, they face sentences of up to 15 years imprisonment.  The charges against these human rights defenders are baseless. They were arrested merely for doing their work protecting the rights of others who are imprisoned and tortured. Their arrests represent a dangerous escalation in the ongoing attacks on fundamental human rights and civil society in Turkey following a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.  To date, at least 50,000 people have been imprisoned pending trial and more than 100,000 public sector employees have been summarily dismissed since the coup attempt. The authorities have targeted critical voices in the media and civil society: at least 130 journalists and media workers have been detained, and more than a hundred media outlets have been closed. Hundreds of NGOs have also been shut down.

If these prosecutions are allowed to move forward without a clear response from the United States government, a precedent will be set that will not only threaten the legitimate work of human rights organizations, but will also embolden authoritarian regimes around the world. The Turkish government must understand that business as usual cannot continue under these conditions. The costs for human rights in Turkey – and for human rights around the world – will be immensely and unacceptably high.  Understanding the urgency of this situation, the authors of this letter called on President Trump to publicly compel Turkey to immediately end the unwarranted prosecution of these innocent human rights defenders.

The protection of global human rights is of paramount concern.  We cannot turn a blind eye to injusticeespecially among those countries who claim to be our allies.  The United States must remain an international beacon of principled courage, recognizing and promoting the basic human rights of all people. If we remain silent in the face of these transgressions, we neglect that moral imperative and do so at the peril of civil society,  said Congressman Bilirakis.