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VP Pence expresses ‘deep concern’ over mass arrests in meeting with Turkish PM

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Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, on an official visit to Washington, on Thursday met with US Vice President Mike Pence, who in addition to reaffirming the strategic partnership between the United States and Turkey, expressed deep concern over the arrest of American citizens, Mission Turkey local staff, journalists and members of civil society under an ongoing state of emergency and urged transparency and due process in the resolution of their cases.

According to a White House readout of the meeting, the leaders expressed hope that their talks would help to usher in a new chapter in US-Turkey relations and agreed on the need for constructive dialogue, as friends and allies, on bilateral challenges. They highlighted the United States and Turkey’s mutual interest in stability and security in the Middle East and agreed to further intergovernmental consultations toward that end.

The vice president also thanked the prime minister for Turkey’s contributions to global security and the fight to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and he underscored the US commitment to stand with Turkey against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and other terrorist threats.

Pence then expressed “deep concern” over the arrest of American citizens, local staff of US missions in Turkey and hundreds of journalists and members of civil society under a state of emergency that was declared following a failed coup on July 15, 2016, urging transparency and due process in the resolution of their cases.

On Oct. 8, the US and Turkey halted non-immigrant visa services in their respective missions after Metin Topuz, a staff member at the US Consulate General in İstanbul, was arrested on Oct. 4 on espionage charges and alleged links to some leading members of the faith-based Gülen movement. This followed the arrest earlier in the year of Hamza Ulucay, a Turkish employee of the US Consulate in Adana. Turkish authorities have also issued a detention warrant for another US Consulate employee over alleged Gülen movement links. Police were unable to detain him because he was sheltering in the consulate building.

Speaking to a group of journalists in İstanbul in October, outgoing US Ambassador to Turkey John Bass said some in the Turkish government are motivated by “vengeance rather than justice,” voicing concern at coverage in pro-government media outlets of the arrest of Topuz.

Serkan Gölge, a dual US-Turkish citizen and a senior NASA researcher, has been held for 15 months in İskenderun Prison after being detained in Hatay province while on a family visit on allegations of being a CIA agent and a follower of the Gülen movement, which is accused by the Turkish government of orchestrating a failed coup on July 15, 2016.

Pastor Andrew Brunson, a North Carolina native, has been in custody since October after he and his wife were detained on immigration violation charges. At the time, the Brunsons were running a small Christian church in İzmir. They had lived in Turkey for 23 years.

Brunson, who was jailed due to alleged links to the Gülen movement, was charged with acquiring secret political and military information, attempting to destroy constitutional order and overthrow the Turkish Parliament.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 2016. Turkey’s Justice Ministry announced on July 13 that 50,510 people have been arrested and 169,013 have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

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