US senators push bill to impose sanctions on Turkey over human rights record

High-ranking Democratic senators re-introduce Turkey Human Rights Promotion Act of 2021

FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan talks to media after attending Friday prayers at Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey August 7, 2020. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo
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A group of prominent Democratic senators re-introduced on Friday a bill that would impose US sanctions on the government of Turkey if it does not take measures to address its deteriorating human rights record.

Edward Markey, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley announced the move in the Senate, which could lead to President Joe Biden imposing sanctions on Turkey.

The bill would focus on "officials of the government of Turkey found responsible for the detention of prisoners of conscience and political prisoners, politically motivated detention of journalists, restricting freedom of expression through social media, and other gross violations of internationally recognised human rights".

The 19-page-bill accuses Ankara of detaining tens of thousands of people and for cracking down on political freedoms under the guise of investigating the attempted coup of July 2016.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had imposed a state of emergency until 2018. But the government has continued detentions, jailing journalists, dissidents and opposition politicians.

According to non-governmental organisation the Committee to Protect Journalists, Turkey was the world’s second biggest jailer of journalists in 2020.

The bill directs the US secretary of state to provide assistance to civil society organisations in Turkey that are working towards the release of political prisoners.

It calls on Ankara to "take steps to significantly improve the dire climate for journalists" and "cease its ongoing crackdown on free expression on the internet, including repealing or amending laws that allow the government to block a website or remove content from the website".

The bill says Turkey's government must halt the indiscriminate detention and prosecution of lawyers, judges and prosecutors and fulfil its obligations under international agreements.

If those measures are not implemented, the senators write in the legislation, the president will impose sanctions in accordance with the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and the Khashoggi Ban.

It also says the Treasury Department should then direct key international financial institutions to oppose any loans, grants, policies or strategies “determined to be enabling the Turkish government to violate the human rights of its citizens”.

“President Erdogan’s free pass from the [Donald] Trump White House to commit abuses has officially expired,” Mr Markey said.

Rana Abtar, a US analyst who follows Congress, said it is not surprising the bill had been re-introduced.

"This is a Democratic bill that didn't make it to the floor when the Republicans had a majority in 2017 and 2019, this has changed now," Ms Abtar told The National.

Democrats narrowly regained Senate control in the 2020 election.

Ms Abtar described the bill as consistent with the general US mood on Turkey, which is increasingly emphasising issues of human rights and political freedoms under Mr Biden.

“This bill has all the components to get bipartisan support, but the Democratic Senate leadership will likely follow the White House’s lead in moving it forward,” Ms Abtar said.

Mr Biden angered Mr Erdogan last week by recognising the Ottoman-era killings of ethnic Armenians as genocide.

The two leaders are expected to meet on the margins of the Nato summit in Brussels next month.

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