A federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday that the Republic of Turkey was not immune from civil claims stemming from the alleged assault of anti-government protesters during Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's 2017 visit to Washington, D.C.
In a published opinion, a panel of three D.C. Circuit judges affirmed a lower court's assertion of jurisdiction over two lawsuits stemming from the clashes because the alleged assaults fell under the tortious acts exception of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.
"Not ... every action a Turkish officer may take is an immunized [action]," the opinion said.
The dispute springs from a series of protests against Erdoğan's regime staged on the road outside the Turkish ambassador's residence, during which Erdoğan's official security detail charged and assaulted a crowd of both Turkish expatriate and American protesters.
Turkey argued the violence committed by Erdoğan's security team, of which 15 members were eventually indicted on criminal charges, was inflicted in the just defense of Turkish government officials and fell well within the rights granted to sovereign states under international law.
The panel conceded that customary international law establishes the right of states to protect diplomats and other officials with force, concurring with an amicus brief filed by the U.S. Department of Justice.
However, it disagreed that street-level violence was "the kind of security-related decisions that are fraught with economic, political or social judgments" that garner protection under the FSIA.
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Pending further appeals, the assault cases will proceed in district court.
"We are pleased with the thoughtful and unanimous opinion issued today by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals finding that Turkey is not entitled to sovereign immunity for its attack," Agnieszka Fryszman, counsel for the protesters, said in a statement Tuesday. "On behalf of our clients, we look forward to pursuing justice at trial."
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The protesters are represented by Agnieszka Fryszman of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, Andreas N. Akaras, Douglas Bregman, Jennifer Wiggins and Stephen Whelan of Bregman Berbert Schwartz & Gilday LLC and Steven Perles, Edward MacAllister and Emily Amick of Perles Law Firm PC.
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