WASHINGTON (CN) – Rejecting an immunity defense, a federal judge refused to dismiss claims brought by a group of protesters who were beaten by Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s security personnel during his visit to the White House three years ago.
Turkey failed to convince the court that Erdogan’s personnel are immune from two lawsuits filed in 2018 accusing them and several other people of violently attacking protesters gathered in northwest Washington’s Sheridan Circle.
The 15 plaintiffs in the two cases were protesting Erdogan’s visit with President Donald Trump on May, 16, 2017, when they were punched, kicked and thrown to the ground by a group of Erdogan supporters and his security officials who broke through a line of police officers.
The demonstrators took particular issue with Erdogan’s policies related to the Kurdish minority in Turkey. The incident in Sheridan Circle led to the indictment of 19 people who have ties to the Turkish government.
Turkey argued it is protected from liability in the civil cases under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976, but the plaintiffs said their claims should survive because of the tortious acts exception to sovereign immunity.
In a 36-page opinion issued late Thursday, U.S. Circuit Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly agreed with the protesters. The Bill Clinton appointee denied Turkey’s motion to dismiss on the grounds of immunity, allowing the case to move forward.
“While in foreign countries, these leaders need to know that their security forces have discretion to take the steps necessary to ensure security. Recognizing this need, the United States grants discretion to security forces when foreign leaders are in our country, and the United States expects this same grant of discretion when our leaders travel abroad” Kollar-Kotelly wrote. “While discretion is necessary to protect those engaging in international diplomacy, such discretion is not unbounded.”
The judge found that Turkey failed to show that its exercise of discretion was “grounded in social, economic, or political policy and was of a nature and quality that Congress intended to shield from liability.”
Kollar-Kotelly also rejected the argument that the protesters posed an imminent threat to Erdogan, noting they “were merely standing on the Sheridan Circle sidewalk.”
“It is uncontroverted that the Turkish security forces did not detain question, search, or otherwise investigate the protesters before, during, or immediately following the altercation as would be expected if they thought the protesters were armed with serious weapons,” she wrote. “Instead, the Turkish security forces chased and violently physically attacked the protesters, many of whom had fallen to the ground and no longer posed a threat.”