A Republican senator is calling on the Turkish government to follow the lead of North Korea’s regime and release an American pastor being held hostage in the NATO nation.
Speaking on the Senate floor on Thursday, Oklahoma’s James Lankford also discouraged Americans from traveling to or doing business in Turkey because the government there can “sweep up anyone for any accusation.”
“I thought I would never say this sentence, but I would like to see Turkey follow the example of North Korea and release American hostages they’re holding,” Lankford said, referring to North Korea’s Tuesday release of three hostages who had been held captive for months.
“Now when Turkey, a NATO ally, is behind North Korea and how they are handling humanitarian issues, Turkey has moved to a very bad spot. And it’s not a space that they need to stay.”
Lankford focused mainly on the case of Andrew Brunson. The North Carolina native who has been jailed in Turkey since October 2016 on trumped up allegations he has aided groups the Turkish government deems to be terrorist organizations. Brunson and his wife had operated Christian churches in Turkey for 23 years before his arrest.
The Turkish government has provided no evidence against Brunson other than claims from secret witnesses who allege the pastor has provided support to followers of the PKK, a Kurdish separatist group, as well as to followers of Fethullah Gulen, an exiled Muslim cleric who is a mortal foe of Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
On Monday, a Turkish court postponed a hearing for Brunson until July 18.
Erdogan has publicly acknowledged Brunson is being held captive in order to force the U.S. government to extradite Gulen, who is living in exile in Pennsylvania. Gulen was behind a failed July 15, 2016, coup attempt against the Turkish government, Erdogan claims. The U.S. government has not seen strong enough evidence to support Erdogan’s allegations, American officials said.
“Now, a year-and-half later, we’re finding out there never was any evidence there ever is any issue, and we’re still dealing with an American being held hostage by a NATO ally,” Lankford said in his speech.
Lankford also discouraged Americans from traveling to Turkey or doing business there.
“I would discourage anyone [who] I speak to and have to do any business in Turkey, to travel to Turkey at this point because if you’re doing business in Turkey, you cannot guarantee the safety of your employees any longer,” he said.
“If you are traveling to Turkey, you cannot be guaranteed safety anymore because of the emergency powers that are currently being used in their legal system. They can sweep up anyone for any accusation, hold them for any length, and that is not just theory; that is being proven by a pastor being held for a year-and-half in Turkey with false charges,” Lankford added.
Another American citizen has already been sentenced to prison on bogus charges of terrorist affiliations.
Serkan Golge, a NASA scientist, was sentenced to prison on Feb. 8 based on allegations he is a Gulen supporter. Golge was arrested on July 23, 2016 — a week after the failed coup attempt.
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