Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford is calling on the U.S. government to impose sanctions against Turkish government officials involved in jailing American citizens on trumped up charges.
The Turkish government has imprisoned at least two American citizens on false charges of supporting terrorist groups. And Turkey’s authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has openly admitted that he is using the issue to force the U.S. to extradite Fetullah Gulen, an exiled Turkish cleric and Erdogan foe.
“The administration should…consider advising U.S. business owners to consider the safety of their employees before expanding operations into Turkey,” Lankford writes in an op-ed at The Wall Street Journal. “And most important, it should impose sanctions against Turkish officials involved in the prolonged and wrongful imprisonment of Americans.”
Lankford, a Republican, pointed to the case of Serkan Golge, a NASA scientist who was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison in Turkey on Thursday over bogus charges that he belongs to a terrorist group. (RELATED: Turkey Postpones Trial Of NASA Scientist Jailed For Having $1 Bill)
Golge, who is a dual citizen of Turkey and the U.S., was arrested July 23, 2016, eight days after a failed coup attempt against the Turkish government.
Erdogan immediately accused Gulen of attempting to topple the government. Gulen’s network of followers is considered a terrorist group in Turkey.
According to press accounts, prosecutors offered scant evidence tying Golge to the Gulen movement, and even less evidence that he was involved in the coup plot.
One piece of evidence used against him was a $1 bill that was found in his brother’s room during a search. That denomination of American currency is allegedly used by some Gulen followers to signal membership in the group. Other Turks have been arrested for carrying $1 bills.
The Turkish government has falsely arrested other American citizens on bogus charges, including a Christian pastor named Andrew Brunson. Brunson had operated a church for 23 years in Turkey when he and his wife were arrested in October 2016. Still in prison, Brunson has not been given a trial and the allegations against him are unclear. He has also been falsely accused of supporting terrorist groups, including the Gulen movement and Kurdish rebels. (RELATED: Erdogan Openly Admits Using Jailed American Pastor As Bargaining Chip Against US)
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have pressed Turkish authorities, including Erdogan, to release Brunson. But Erdogan has openly acknowledged that he is using American prisoners as leverage to force the U.S. to extradite Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania.
But Lankford says that the U.S. should use a sanctions law, the Global Magnitsky Act, to punish Turkish authorities responsible for falsely imprisoning Americans.
“The White House has the tools necessary to institute a range of targeted sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act, but Congress is more than willing to provide additional incentives if needed,” he wrote.
Lankford also noted that a State Department spending bill that is expected to pass in coming weeks will require the secretary of state to block entry to Turkish officials who are “knowingly responsible for the wrongful or unlawful prolonged detention of citizens or nationals of the United States.”
“There are many nations around the world where such behavior is commonplace, such as Cuba and Iran,” Lankford writes. “But the recent level of thuggishness is unprecedented for an ally in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.”
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