Supreme Court quashes Turkey bid to avoid lawsuits over 2017 Washington protest

President Erdogan's security detail violently attacked protesters during trip to Washington

The US Supreme Court building in Washington. Justices quashed a bid by Turkey to have two lawsuits thrown out. Reuters
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The US Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear Turkey's bid to dismiss two lawsuits filed by demonstrators seeking monetary damages after accusing Turkish security forces of injuring them during a 2017 protest in Washington that coincided with a visit by President Tayyip Erdogan.

The justices turned away an appeal by Turkey of lower court rulings allowing the litigation to proceed, rejecting the Nato ally's argument that it has immunity from such legal action in the US under a federal law called the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

Members of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's security detail are shown violently reacting to peaceful protesters during Erdogan's trip to Washington in 2017. AP

At issue in the litigation is a melee involving members of Mr Erdogan's security detail that occurred as protesters demonstrated outside the Turkish ambassador's residence in Washington on May 6, 2017. Mr Erdogan was in the US capital to meet then-president Donald Trump. The incident strained relations between Turkey and the US.

Two lawsuits were filed in 2018 — one case brought by 15 plaintiffs and the other by five — seeking to hold Turkey's government responsible and asking for monetary damages for injuries that included concussions, seizures and lost teeth. The plaintiffs sought tens of millions of dollars, according to court papers.

The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act limits the jurisdiction of American courts over lawsuits against foreign governments.

Turkey has blamed the brawl on demonstrators linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party. The police chief in the US capital described the incident as a “brutal attack” on peaceful protesters.

President Joe Biden's administration had urged the Supreme Court not to hear Turkey's appeal to avoid the lawsuits. The administration said that when foreign security personnel deploy force in ways that are not related to protecting officials from bodily harm they are acting outside their legal protections.

Turkey had argued that a failure by the Supreme Court to reverse that ruling threatened to disrupt US foreign relations and “invites reciprocal erosion of immunity for US security agents protecting American presidents, diplomats and missions abroad”.

Updated: October 31, 2022, 6:09 PM