Speaking at the hearing “Prisoners of the Purge” hosted by the US Congress Helsinki Commission on November 15, 2015, Jonathan R. Cohen, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs in the U.S. State Department, focused on the US Government’s concerns over Turkey’s protracted state of emergency, which, he said, ” in the view of the US Government, negatively impacted Turkish democracy, the rule of law and respect for fundamental freedoms.”
Individuals criticizing the government targeted
Cohen stated that “tens of thousands of people have been arrested for terror-related charges, and nearly one thousand private businesses were expropriated.”
“Detentions and prosecutions often with little evidence, transparency or effective mechanism for redress, undermine confidence in the rule of law in Turkey,” he added.
He said the US was concerned to see Turkey extend the state of emergency for a fifth time on October 17 for an additional three months.
“We call on the Turkish government to expeditiously end the state of emergency, release those not proven guilty of criminal offenses, expedite due process for dismissed civil servants, and cease the seemingly indiscriminate prosecution of individuals, in many case, individuals that appear to have been targeted because they criticize the government” said Cohen.
“Arrestations on dubious terrorism charges”
Cohen stated that American citizens including Pastor Andrew Brunson, U.S.-Turkey dual nationals including the NASA scientist Serkan Golge and local employees of the US missions have been arrested on “dubious” and “outlandish” terrorism charges.
He also pointed out that, more than a year, the state of emergency appears to have been used expansively to target many Turks with no connection to the coup attempt.
The Deputy Secretary underlined that the targeting of U.S. local staff, particularly those responsible for law enforcement coordination, raised their concern over Turkey’s commitment to providing proper security for diplomatic and consular facilities and personnel. The US had suspended non-immigrant visa services in response to the arrestation of longtime employees of US Adana and Istanbul Consulates, Hamza Ulucay and Metin Topuz. Cohen said “the Turkish government has levelled flimsy terrorism charges against both Mr. Topuz and Mr. Ulucay for maintaining legitimate contacts with government officials and other in the context of their official duties on behalf of the US government.”
“High-level assurances received from Ankara”
Cohen reiterated that Washington allowed for the resumption of limited visa services in Turkey, based on Ankara’s initial high-level assurances that there will be no additional local employees of US Mission in Turkey under investigation. However, Turkey’s Embassy in Washington had previously denied any assurance given by the Turkish government.
Turkish government made efforts to equate the arrest of local staff in Turkey with the Reza Zarrab/ Halkbank case in the US
Cohen indicated that “some in the Turkish government have made efforts to equate cases involving our local staff with the arrest in the US of a senior executive of Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank. The two situations and contexts are very different and the US government strongly objects to any effort to link them.”
“Worrisome diminishment in freedom of the media and expression
Cohen indicated that “detentions of journalists under emergency rule have effectively silenced most independent media.” He said “Turkey will benefit from having more engaged voices, not fewer- even voices it may find controversial or uncomfortable.”
Turkey is losing checks and balances
As a response to a question about the April 16 Referendum, Cohen stated that it has given the President sweeping new powers. Cohen, indicating the referendum passed with the thinnest possible majority, said “the Venice Commission report says Turkey is losing many checks and balances with the latest constitutional changes.”
Access to legal counsel is restricted
In response to a question, Cohen said “Bar Associations report that detainees have difficulties in access to lawyers because the government restricted the lawyers’ access to detainees in prisons. Especially, those who are not provided by the state such as legal aid lawyers, and many lawyers are reluctant to defend individuals suspected to be tied to the coup attempt.”
State of emergency has a chilling effect on average Turkish citizen
As a response to a question about how the state of emergency and the ongoing crackdown is affecting the average Turkish citizen, he said “it has a chilling effect on public discussions about politics. It’s palpable when you are in Turkey. The nature of the public debate is narrowed.”
State of emergency exceeded its limits
“To our minds, the number of the people that have been swept up in the counter-coup activity, it looks
to us that the state of emergency exceeded its limits,” he answered to another question about the restrictions under the state of emergency.
Who the coup plotters were working with is not clear
In response to a question whether there is any evidence supporting the Turkish government’s allegation that those in the military associated with the Gulen movement were responsible for the coup, Cohen said “military participation to the coup is the most clear cut. Less clear category is who they were working with.”