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Turkish guards who attacked protesters in D.C. might not have diplomatic immunity

The Turkish security guards who attacked protesters outside of the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday can claim diplomatic immunity — but that doesn’t mean they have it.

After Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the White House for a meeting with President Donald Trump, protesters carrying the flag of the Syrian Kurdish PYD party gathered outside of the Turkish embassy. A video that surfaced Thursday afternoon shows Erdogan standing by as his guards then attacked the protesters.


The State Department is working with D.C. police to investigate the guards’ role in the altercation and determine what diplomatic and legal options, if any, are available for addressing what D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham called a “brutal attack on peaceful protesters.”

“There could be a diplomatic immunity issue, but that won’t prevent us from doing what we need to do,” Newsham said in a press conference on Wednesday.

Diplomatic immunity is given to diplomats around the world to ensure they’re able to carry out their mission without fear of prosecution or persecution under the host country’s laws. Whether or not immunity applies to the guards depends on their relationship to the embassy.

“If [the guards] were accredited members of the diplomatic mission, then they have diplomatic immunity and that would be upheld,” said Stanford University law professor Allen Weiner, a former State Department legal advisor. “If they are part of a traveling detail, they might try to claim diplomatic immunity, but I don’t think that would be upheld.”

Police arrested two civilians at the protest. A State Department spokesperson told VICE News that two members of Erdogan’s security detail were briefly detained and released. The spokesperson also confirmed that Turkish Ambassador Serdar Kılıç was brought in for a meeting with Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon following the attack.

In video shot in the midst of the attacks, men in suits can be seen punching and kicking protesters, some of whom are already on the ground.

The U.S. government has the authority to declare members of a diplomatic mission personae non gratae, a diplomatic term meaning “people not appreciated” that would amount to an order to leave the country regardless of their diplomatic standing. The State Department could also ask the Turkish government to waive immunity so that the men can be prosecuted in the U.S.

“Frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me,” Weiner said, “if they are members of the mission, that they’re already on a plane on their way home.”