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U.S. Congress Tackles the Menace of Transnational Repression with Insight from Exiled Journalist: Abdulhamit Bilici

Washington, D.C. — In a compelling session convened by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on Wednesday, lawmakers and witnesses delved into the pervasive issue of transnational repression (TNR), focusing on strategies to enhance the United States’ defensive measures against such global infringements on human rights. The hearing illuminated the various methods authoritarian regimes employ to silence overseas dissent, highlighting the critical need for stronger legislative responses.

A standout testimony came from Mr. Abdulhamit Bilici, the former Editor-in-Chief of Zaman daily, once Turkey’s largest newspaper before its government seizure in 2016. Bilici, now living in exile in the United States, shared a personal narrative that underscored the dire consequences of TNR. “While the Turkish government neither denies nor hides the abductions, these acts are publicly promoted and glorified by government-led media, and the victims are presented in handcuffs before disappearing,” Bilici remarked, painting a grim picture of the situation.

Bilici’s journey from leading a major newspaper to driving for Uber in the U.S. to support his family reflects the stark realities faced by victims of TNR. Despite the challenges, he has tirelessly utilized every platform available to him, including speaking engagements and media appearances, to advocate against media repression and the broader issue of TNR. “I had to leave the country and I am living in the US for 8 years as an exiled journalist,” he shared, highlighting the personal cost of his commitment to press freedom.

One poignant example Bilici provided was an event organized by the World Affairs Council in Dayton, Ohio, which was nearly cancelled due to threats from a supporter of Turkish President Erdogan residing in the U.S. Despite these threats, the event proceeded, albeit under the shadow of necessary police protection. “This is happening on American soil! What I am sure is that my case in Dayton is not unique and not the worst…” he added, emphasizing the widespread nature of TNR and its impact even within the presumed safety of the United States.

The hearing underscored the alarming statistics provided by Freedom House, which documented 854 direct, physical incidents of TNR committed by 38 governments in 91 countries from 2014 through 2022. With China, Turkey, Egypt, and Rwanda leading the counts, the urgency for a concerted response becomes ever more apparent.

Legislative initiatives, such as H.R. 3654, the Transnational Repression Policy Act, were discussed as potential tools to combat TNR. This act aims to address the challenge by preventing, mitigating, and responding to acts of transnational repression both internationally and within the United States.

Participants, including members of Congress and the public, engaged in the hybrid hearing format, with the option for remote participation through Cisco WebEx, highlighting the importance of accessibility in addressing human rights issues. The session, available for live webcast and on Channel 54 of the House Digital Channel service, marked a significant step towards understanding and combating TNR, offering hope for victims like Bilici and countless others affected by these violations worldwide.

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