WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-08) announced that he is sponsoring and calling for the release of Kurdish political prisoner Selahattin Demirtaş through the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission’s Defending Freedoms Project. Demirtaş is a Kurdish politician from Turkey and a former co-chair of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) who was unjustly imprisoned for making political speeches. Demirtaş was one of 14 HDP members detained on November 4, 2016, during President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on political opposition parties and democratic forces.
“This case is a scandal and an outrage. Democratically-elected members of government like Demirtaş should not be rotting in prison simply because their party is out of power. I stand with Selahattin Demirtaş and call on the Turkish government to release him immediately,” said Congressman Raskin. “Rather than moving forward with his invitation for President Erdogan to visit the White House on November 13th, President Trump should end his infatuation with Erdogan, an autocrat whose thugs beat up peaceful protestors in D.C. during his May 2017 visit to the White House; whose constituents marched in the streets against his authoritarianism; whose military is carrying out deadly assaults on our Kurdish partners in Syria; and whose political opponents are imprisoned because he’s afraid of democracy.”
“Demirtaş’ situation is emblematic of the repression faced by our party, and by all supporters of peace, pluralism, and minority rights in Turkey today. Right now, he is one of thousands of HDP members and supporters in prison— a number that includes dozens of elected mayors and six other elected MPs,” said Hishyar Ozsoy, HDP Member of Parliament and Deputy Co-Chair for Foreign Affairs.
“The violation of the human rights of parliamentarians is an attack against democracy itself. That is why we in the U.S. Congress must stand in solidarity with our fellow and sister legislators when they are threatened, attacked or imprisoned anywhere in the world. We understand that the persecution of Selahattin Demirtaş of Turkey is an attack on us, too,” said Congressman Jim McGovern, Co-Chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
“Just this week the House passed a bipartisan Resolution rebuking President Trump’s appalling decision to withdraw U.S. troops in Syria and abandon our Kurdish friends and partners. Despite Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the consequences of his actions, he invited, accepted, and justified Turkey’s ruthless attacks on our Kurdish partners, resulting in a humanitarian crisis which has killed civilians and displaced more than 160,000 people. He should know by now that his humiliating praise of Erdogan is a message to Americans and to the rest of the world that he values authoritarian strongmen over the rights of men and women,” said Congressman Raskin.
As an Executive Committee Member of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and supporter of the Defending Freedoms Project, Congressman Raskin advocates for the release, reduced sentencing, and improved treatment of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.