(CNSNews.com) – Those responsible for violently attacking anti-Erdogan protestors in Washington, D.C., should be charged before they leave the country, House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Wednesday.
The State Department says it has expressed its concerns to the Turkish government “in the strongest possible terms” after assailants – believed to be members of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s security detail – crossed police lines near the Turkish ambassador’s residence and assaulted protestors on Tuesday.
Royce wants steps to go further than that.
“To send a clear message that these acts of violence will not be tolerated, I ask that you immediately look into this matter and bring all appropriate criminal charges before these individuals leave the United States,” he wrote Sessions and Tillerson.
“Agents of foreign governments should never be immune from prosecution for felonious behavior,” Royce said. “Above all else, they should never be permitted to violate the protections afforded by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”
Footage filmed by VOA Turkish showed men, many wearing dark suits, hitting and kicking protestors, including some lying on the ground, while police officers tried to prevent the assaults.
According to an Associated Press report, Turkey’s state news agency Anadolu described the protestors in DC as Kurdish “supporters of terror” who were chanting anti-Erdogan slogans. It said the security detail dispersed them because “police did not heed to Turkish demands to intervene.”
The Metropolitan Police Department said Wednesday it intends to pursue charges against those responsible for the assaults, actions which it said “stand in contrast to the First Amendment rights and principles we work tirelessly to protect each and every day.”
“We will continue to work with our partners at the United States State Department and United States Secret Service to identify and hold all subjects accountable for their involvement in the altercation,” the department said in a statement.
“There could be a diplomatic immunity issue, but that won’t prevent us from doing what we need to do,” DC Police Chief Peter Newsham told reporters, describing the attack as brutal and apparently unprovoked.
Only two people were arrested on the scene, named by police as Ayten Necmi, 49, of Woodside, N.Y., arrested for “aggravated assault”; and Jalal Kheirabaoi, 42, of Fairfax, Va., arrested for “assault on a police officer (simple assault).”
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the administration was “communicating our concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms” over the incident, which she described as “violent incidents involving protestors and Turkish security personnel.”
“Violence is never an appropriate response to free speech, and we support the rights of people everywhere to free expression and peaceful protest,” she said.
Tuesday’s incident occurred hours after Erdogan met with President Trump at the White House. Turkey is a longstanding NATO ally but relations with the U.S. have been strained over the years since Erdogan’s Islamist-leaning government took power, pursuing foreign and domestic policies often troubling to Washington.
At home, Erdogan has overseen a sweeping crackdown on critics and opponents since a failed coup attempt last July which he blames on a U.S.-based Turkish cleric he wants extradited. Media outlets have been shut down, tens of thousands of people detained, and more than 130,000 civil servants removed from their posts.
David Kaye, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, called the violent images “reprehensible,” while Suzanne Nossel, executive director of the free expression advocacy group PEN America said the incident was “a violent illustration, on U.S. soil, of how Erdogan’s Turkey responds to expressions of dissent.”
“This is the United States of America,” tweeted Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Wednesday in response to the violence in DC. “We do not do this here. There is no excuse for this kind of thuggish behavior.”
Four other Republican senators are calling for an apology from the Turkish government.
“Reports indicate that some Turkish officials were involved in assaulting protestors, which violates the most basic rules of diplomacy and is an affront to the United States and the value we place on the right to free speech, as embodied in our Constitution,” said Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.), Ted Cruz (Texas), Mike Lee (Utah) and Marco Rubio (Fla.).
“It is even more concerning coming from one of our own NATO allies,” they said. “We call upon the Turkish government to apologize immediately for the involvement of any officials.”
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser also condemned the violence.
“What we saw yesterday – a violent attack on a peaceful demonstration – is an affront to DC values and our rights as Americans,” she said in a statement.
“I strongly condemn these actions and have been briefed by Chief Newsham on our response. The Metropolitan Police Department will continue investigating the incident and will work with federal partners to ensure justice is served.”