US senators threaten sanctions on Turkish officials over ongoing judicial process

U.S. senators called on U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration to impose sanctions on the Turkish officials that are responsible for detentions of U.S. citizens and local consulate staff in Turkey on terrorism charges, overlooking the ongoing judicial process.

Republican Sen. Roger Wicker and Democrat Sen. Ben Cardin introduced a bipartisan bill on Tuesday, demanding the U.S. administration impose sanctions on all senior Turkish officials responsible for the "wrongful" detentions of U.S. citizens and staff, including barring these officials from travel to the U.S. and freezing any U.S. assets.

Turkey has detained some U.S. citizens and local consulate staff for their links to the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) and the coup attempt orchestrated by the terrorist organization on July 15, 2016. The two NATO allies mutually suspended visa services at their diplomatic mission in October 2017 after U.S. Consulate employee Metin Topuz was arrested after Turkish authorities charged him with links to FETÖ. Topuz has been linked to a number of FETÖ suspects, including police commissioners and former prosecutor Zekeriya Öz, a fugitive accused of attempting to overthrow the government through the use of force, according to a judicial source who asked not to be named due to restrictions on speaking to the media.

Last month, a Turkish court ruled that Topuz should remain in custody pending the outcome of his trial on charges of espionage and attempting to overthrow the Turkish government. Topuz has been held in pre-trial detention for nearly a year-and-a-half and faces a life sentence if convicted. The trial began at a time when the U.S. and Turkey are increasingly at odds over their Syria policy and the Turkish purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense systems. U.S. support for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), dominated by the PKK terrorist group's Syrian offshoot, the People's Protection Units (YPG), remains the most contentious issue. Ankara's decision to buy S-400 missile systems from Russia has provoked warnings from Washington that the deal may impact its sale of U.S.-made F-35 fighter jets to Turkey and trigger sanctions.

Three other Turkish citizens who were working at the U.S. Consulates in Turkey have been under investigation or jailed over similar charges. Serkan Gölge, a dual Turkish-U.S. citizen, was found guilty of being a member of an armed terrorist organization earlier this year and sentenced to seven years, six months in prison. Mete Cantürk, another Turkish employee of the consulate, is under house arrest in a related investigation. Hamza Uluçay, a Turkish translator at the U.S. mission in southern Adana province was convicted of terror-related offenses earlier this year but released from prison.

U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson was also among those jailed in the aftermath of the coup. He was released last October. "While the Turkish government made a step in the right direction with the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson last October, more needs to be done for Turkey to show good faith and act like a NATO ally," said Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, one of six original sponsors of Tuesday's bill. Turkey, on its part, accuses the U.S. of harboring FETÖ, which operates a vast network of charter schools and businesses in the country, and its leader Fetullah Gülen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania since 1999. FETÖ is a terrorist organization that was behind the coup attempt of July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people.

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