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Turkey slams US for its 'baseless' human rights report findings

Turkey's ministry of foreign affairs accuses Washington of levying 'vague' allegations that disregard its struggle against 'terrorist' forces
As tensions between the US and Turkey mount, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has yet to receive a call from his US counterpart (AFP/File photo)

The Turkish government has issued a scathing response to the latest US human rights report, in the latest example of strained ties between the two Nato allies.

The Turkish ministry of foreign affairs, in a statement on Wednesday, said the US's findings regarding Turkey's human rights record were "baseless" and formed on "vague" allegations. 

The report, released on Tuesday and entitled the "2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices", faulted Ankara over a series of "significant human rights issues".

It highlighted allegations that ranged from arbitrary killings and torture cases to the jailing of tens of thousands of political foes, including politicians, lawyers, journalists and human rights activists.

In the US report, officials also expressed concern over Turkey's direct targeting of those suspected of links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and supporters of cleric Fethullah Gulen, a US resident who the Turkish government has accused of masterminding a coup attempt in 2016. 

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'Unacceptable allegations'

Turkey considers both the PKK and the Gulen movement to be terrorist organisations. While Washington has provided Gulen refuge, it aligns with Ankara in designating the PKK as a terrorist group. 

The executive summary section of the report on Turkey alleged that individuals affiliated with the PKK or the Gulen movement were more likely to be subjected to "mistreatment or abuse" oftentimes for practising "peaceful legitimate speech" and "without the full due process provided for under law".

Meanwhile, the Turkish foreign ministry asserted that the Biden administration's characterisation of the Gulen movement "ignores the concrete evidence we have put forward regarding this terrorist organisation".

Accusing the US of unfair bias, the ministry said the rights report was evidence that the US "still cannot comprehend our just struggle" against Gulen and his supporters. 

'Claims regarding our counter-terrorism operations in Syria are unacceptable'

- Turkish foreign ministry

In its report, the US noted that since the 2016 coup attempt, Turkish authorities had carried out an ongoing purge against critics, dismissing or suspending tens of thousands of members of the police force, military and judiciary and closing more than 1,500 nongovernmental organisations on terrorism-related grounds, primarily for alleged ties to Gulen’s movement. 

On the four-year anniversary of the coup attempt last year, the Turkish government announced that authorities had opened legal proceedings against 597,783 individuals, detained 282,790, and arrested 94,975, all on terrorism-related charges. 

"The courts in some cases applied the law unevenly, with legal critics and rights activists asserting court and prosecutor decisions were sometimes subject to executive interference," the US report alleged. 

The US also reported "credible allegations" that Ankara had contributed to civilian deaths during its efforts to target the PKK, which encompasses both a political and armed branch. 

The US noted that the PKK "continued to target civilians in its attacks" against the Turkish government, while also stressing that Ankara "took insufficient measures to protect civilian lives" during its efforts against the Kurdish independence group. 

For its part, Turkey's foreign affairs ministry said it was "unacceptable" to include such allegations in the report, accusing the US of ignoring "the terrorist identity" of the PKK.

Turkey in Syria

Turkey also took objection to US criticism regarding its role in northern Syria, where its operation is aimed at driving Kurdish forces allied with the US away from the Turkish border.

The US report noted the findings by the UN Commission of Inquiry into Syria, which suggested that Turkish-supported opposition groups may have been responsible for attacks against civilians.

The Turkish government rejected the UN findings, as well as similar reports carried out by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among others, as flawed and biased. 

"Claims regarding our counter-terrorism operations in Syria are unacceptable," Turkey's foreign ministry said in Wednesday's statement. 

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"There is no reason for the repetition of these allegations, as they were previously denied on various occasions," the ministry continued.

The ministry also slammed the US for what it said was a failure to highlight the PKK and its Syrian affiliate, the People's Protection Units (YPG), for threatening "Syria's territorial integrity". 

US allies, the YPG makes up the largest group within the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which has been the US's main partner in fighting the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria. But like the PKK, it is considered a terrorist organisation by the Turkish government. 

The US's findings in its rights report regarding Turkey is further evidence of mounting mistrust between the two countries, particularly under US President Joe Biden. 

A critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Biden in 2019 called the leader an "autocrat" during an interview with the New York Times. Biden has yet to reach out to Erdogan for a heads-of-state call since taking office in January.

US tensions with Turkey have been heated over a variety of issues, including Ankara's insistence on going through with its purchase of Russian made S-400 missile defence systems. 

In its statement on Wednesday, Turkey's foreign ministry insisted that its human rights protections are "complete" and based on "democracy and rule of law". 

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