Turkey moves to dismiss Washington assault case

Turkey has filed a motion to a U.S. court to dismiss a multi-million-dollar assault and hate crime lawsuit filed by mainly Kurdish demonstrators attacked by members of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s security detail in the U.S. capital in May 2017.

In the 82-page document submitted earlier this month by Washington law firm Saltzman & Evinch, the Turkish government defended the actions of Erdoğan’s bodyguards outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence by arguing that the president faced the legitimate threat of assassination from protesters linked to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). 

The PKK has led an armed insurgency in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast since 1984 and is labelled a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. 

“The evidence shows that the actions of the Turkish presidential security agents occurred at a moment when they were faced with an angry and aggressive group of apparent supporters or affiliates of a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organisation (“FTO”), who had not been subjected to security screenings at the site, who had just assaulted supporters of Turkey (the “Pro-Turkey Group”) with impunity, who had previously advanced towards the residence despite police commands to stay back, and who remained within hand-gun or improvised explosive device (“IED”) proximity of President Erdoğan,” said the motion. 

Outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence on Sheridan Circle on May 16, 2017, presidential guards were captured on video beating and kicking men and women protesters. U.S. officials called for the expulsion of Turkey’s ambassador and 15 guards were indicted by a district court and banned from re-entering the United States. 

In March, a U.S. federal judge ruled that assault and hate crime charges levelled by 15 of the demonstrators, mostly U.S. citizens, could go ahead, along with the majority of emotional distress charges. 

Turkey’s motion argued that the plaintiffs’ lawsuit was not about seeking redress, but rather politically driven, pointing out that plaintiff Murat Yasa has made it clear that he hopes to bring pressure on Turkey to negotiate with the jailed leader of the PKK. 

“Yasa boldly stated in an interview with Al-Monitor that, if President Erdoğan were to conduct peace talks with Abdullah Öcalan,” according to the motion, “he would withdraw this lawsuit ‘without a second thought’.”

The motion states that the protesters were perceived as a threat to Erdoğan’s safety and that the police, civilian supporters of Turkey, and Turkish security officers also suffered injuries, which were little reported. 

Erdoğan has faced at least 300 assassination attempts and has extraordinary security needs, the motion said, adding that his security detail should be immune from prosecution under the Foreign Service Immunities Act and the case dismissed. 

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