NEW YORK—Reports of Turkish President Erdogan’s guards engaging in violence against protestors in Washington DC provide a troubling example of Erdogan’s intolerance of dissent and disrespect for free expression and assembly, PEN America said in a statement today.

On May 16, a violent altercation broke out in Washington DC between protestors and supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The altercation, which happened outside the Turkish Embassy in Washington DC, occurred while Erdogan was reportedly at the Embassy as part of his official State Visit. The Washington DC Metropolitan police have reported that nine people were injured, and two people arrested.

While the Metropolitan police have not stated how the melee started, reports indicate that Erdogan’s security detail participated in the fight, with witnesses claiming that the security detail initiated an altercation with the protestors. Voice of America Turkish has posted footage of the event, including a video showing men dressed in suits pushing past police to attack a group holding anti-Erdogan protest signs.

The altercation occurred the same day that Erdogan and President Trump met at the White House, at which President Trump spoke of working with Erdogan on “working toward a future of dignity and safety for all of our people,” while Erdogan praised the “common democratic values and common interests” underlying US-Turkey relations.

Under Erdogan’s rule, freedom of speech and assembly within Turkey has been seriously curtailed. After a coup attempt against Erdogan in July 2016, the Erdogan government arrested approximately 40,000 people. The mass arrest of journalists after the coup attempt made Turkey the world’s leading jailer of journalists in 2016. In April 2017, Turkey narrowly passed a referendum giving the President substantially more executive power, including the ability to make executive orders that carry the force of law.

“Yesterday’s melee is a violent illustration, on US soil, of how Erdogan’s Turkey responds to expressions of dissent,” said Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director of PEN America. “The Trump Administration needs to speak out today to make it clear that this type of violent response to free assembly is out of line and won’t be tolerated on our soil.  It shouldn’t happen in the United States, and not in Turkey.”

This is not the first time that Erdogan’s security detail has reportedly engaged in physical action on US soil. In March 2016, also in DC, Erdogan’s security detail clashed with protestors and event staff and physically ejected Turkish journalists attempting to cover Erdogan’s speech at the Brookings Institution, and in September 2014 Erdogan’s security detail manhandled two Turkish reporters attempting to cover Erdogan’s meeting with Vice President Biden.

PEN America, the free expression advocacy organization and American chapter of PEN International, is one of the 60+ organizations—including over 30 PEN chapters across the world—which have urged the UN Human Rights Council to take up the case of Turkey’s deteriorating atmosphere for freedom of expression.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression at home and abroad. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world.  Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

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