An Open Letter to President Obama

An “open letter” to President Obama, signed jointly by  The Foreign Policy Initiative, Freedom House, Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), and Reporters Without Borders was made public today.  The letter notes the important strategic relationship between the United States and Turkey, but also highlights Turkey’s worsening human rights record.

It calls on President Obama “make rule of law and political freedoms a priority in [his] engagements with Prime Minister Erdogan.”


The letter argues, in part, that:

Turkey’s progress has stalled and in some crucial areas regressed.  As noted in the U.S. State Department’s most recent Human Rights report on Turkey:  “The arrest and prosecution of journalists, writers, and Kurdish intellectuals and political activists, coupled with condemnatory speeches by political leaders, had a chilling effect on freedom of expression.”Since that report was issued, the situation has only gotten worse.  An October 2012 report by the Committee to Protect Journalists stated that Turkey now has “the disreputable distinction of being the world’s worst jailer of the press”—an analysis shared by Reporters Without Borders…

Prime Minister Erdogan has recently voiced support for anti-blasphemy laws that would further restrict freedom of speech.  The government has largely abandoned efforts to protect Kurdish minority rights and to end the armed Turkish-Kurdish conflict.  Hundreds of military officers, as well as various scholars and journalists, have been arrested and charged through trials dogged by allegations of fabricated evidence used by the prosecution.  Many now face prison terms of twenty years or more pending appeal… Finally, Turkey, once a leader in the region on the role of women in society, has alarmingly few women in high level government positions and professions, and has seen a steady decline in women’s participation in the labor force.

The letter “[urges President Obama] to express publicly and privately America’s concerns about Turkey’s backsliding, and to direct diplomatic efforts toward ensuring that Turkey resumes a course designed to consolidate democracy and the rule of law.”
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