A US court has rejected a Turkish attempt to dismiss civil cases brought by protesters who were violently attacked in Washington by Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s security officers.
The incident took place in May 2017 during a visit to the US by the Turkish president. About a dozen bodyguards beat-up a group demonstrating outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington.
The attack, which was caught on video, left nine people injured and further strained US relations with Turkey.
While criminal charges against the security guards were dropped within a year, around the same time Turkey released a US pastor, the victims pressed ahead with a civil case.
On Thursday, a federal court denied Turkey’s request to have the two cases thrown out on the grounds that it should have sovereign immunity from legal proceedings.
In her 36-page opinion, US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said the protesters had not posed a threat and were merely gathered on a sidewalk outside the residence at Sheridan Circle when Erdogan’s security burst through a police line and attacked them.
“The Turkish security forces did not have the discretion to violently physically attack the protesters, with the degree and nature of force which was used, when the protesters were standing, protesting on a public sidewalk,” she said. “And, Turkish security forces did not have the discretion to continue violently physically attacking the protesters after the protesters had fallen to the ground or otherwise attempted to flee.”
The judge said Turkey “has not met its burden of persuasion to show that it is immune from suit in these cases.”
The ruling was welcomed by the victims of the attack, which Erdogan stopped to watch as he made his way from his car to inside the residence.
“We are sending a message to dictators that they cannot do to demonstrators in this country what they do to dissenters in theirs,” Doug Bregman, a lawyer for the victims, told The Hill news website.
Agnieszka Fryszman, another lawyer for the plaintiffs, said: “We look forward to proving our claims in court and to getting a just result for our clients who were attacked and badly injured while protesting against human rights abuses. I am glad the Court agreed that agents of a foreign country should not be able to claim immunity for their violent attack on free speech in the United States.”
The two cases will now move ahead to the next phase.