July 27, 2021
A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. rejected an attempt by the government of Turkey to dismiss a lawsuit by protesters who were violently attacked by Turkish security officers in May 2017 during a visit by — and within view of — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the nation’s capital.
A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday unanimously decided to allow the lawsuit on behalf of the victims to move forward, affirming the district court’s decision from February of last year that Turkey is not entitled to immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.
The opinion of the court was written by Circuit Judge Karen Lecraft Henderson, who said that excessive use of force by Turkish security officials was not warranted as a security measure to protect the Turkish president.
“The nature of the challenged conduct was not plausibly related to protecting President Erdoğan, which is the only authority Turkey had to use force against United States citizens and residents,” Henderson wrote.
“In the same way that speeding down a residential street may occasionally be justifiable but is not an execution of policy, the Turkish security detail’s actions may have been justified in some circumstances but cannot be said in this case to have been plausibly grounded in considerations of security-related policy and thus do not fall within the discretionary function exception.”
The decision by the appeals court represents diminishing options for Turkey to try and throw out the civil lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of at least 20 individuals who were beaten by Turkish security officers outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence on May 16, 2017.
The appeals decision represents a key victory for the victims, who saw the Department of Justice under the Trump administration drop federal charges against nearly a dozen individual Turkish security officers in March 2018.
The dropped charges at the time coincided with the release of an American pastor held in a Turkish prison.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs welcomed the appeals court decision.
“Our clients include parents with young children and retirees who were peacefully protesting Turkey’s abuse of the Kurd community when they were kicked, punched and stomped by Turkish security officials – right here on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington DC,” said Agnieszka Fryszman, plaintiffs’ counsel from Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, who argued the case to a three-judge panel at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in January.
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