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Witnesses Testify to Anti-Democratic Practices in Turkey at U.S. Congress Human Rights Hearing

The U.S. Congress Human Rights Commission convened a pivotal hearing today to address severe human rights abuses reported in Turkey. Journalist Abdulhamit Bilici and human rights activist Enes Kanter Freedom provided firsthand accounts of the anti-democratic practices and human rights violations orchestrated by the Turkish government.

In-Depth Testimonies Reveal Systematic Abuses

During the session, focused on the systematic crimes against humanity linked to the Erdogan administration’s efforts to dismantle press and judicial independence, Bilici and Kanter served as key witnesses. Bilici, the last chief editor of Zaman Newspaper and a member of the IJA US Advisory Board, detailed the erosion of freedom in Turkey. Kanter, a former NBA player, shared his experiences and observations of the human rights landscape in Turkey.

Bilici highlighted several alarming cases:

  • Legal Persecution: “Lawyer Can Atalay was sentenced to 18 years in prison during the 2013 Gezi Park protests on charges of ‘attempting to overthrow the Erdogan government.'”
  • Media Suppression: “Erdogan has seized control of 95% of the media. According to the World Press Freedom Index, Turkey is ranked 165th out of 180 countries, competing with Iran and China for imprisoning the most journalists.”
  • Direct Assaults on Press Freedom: “After failing with softer tactics, Erdogan chose the nuclear option for my newspaper. In March 2016, he ordered a brutal raid on our Istanbul headquarters by terror police and had me expelled as the last editor.”
  • Targeted Media Groups: “This pattern of suppression wasn’t unique to our newspaper. A year prior to silencing my publication, the government targeted the Bugün and STV media groups, both critical platforms for the opposition.”
  • Prolonged Detention of Journalists: “Journalist and media executive Hidayet Karaca has been in solitary confinement since 2014, sentenced to 31 years in prison.”

Prison Conditions Under Scrutiny

Kanter took the floor to shed light on the dire conditions within Turkish prisons:

  • Inhumane Treatment of Disabled Inmates: “Physics teacher Şerife Sulukan, who is 89% disabled and paralyzed, is currently battling for her life in prison, punished merely for sending her child to a school shut down by Erdogan.”

Call for Stronger U.S. Action

Kanter urged the U.S. Congress to take more decisive action in confronting these issues: “The U.S. Congress must be bolder in prioritizing human rights in its dealings with the regime, speak out more forcefully, and advocate for the enforcement of European Court of Human Rights decisions by the Turkish government.”

The hearing serves not only as a forum for these stark testimonials but also as a crucial step in reevaluating the U.S. response to Turkey’s human rights situation and developing actionable recommendations for moving forward.

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