Senator James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma, on Thursday gave a speech on the Senate floor lambasting Turkey for the unjust imprisonment and bogus trial of American pastor Andrew Brunson, saying Turkey should take a lesson from North Korea and release the American hostages it is holding.
“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 in reference to North Korea’s release on Tuesday of three hostages who had been held captive for over a year.
“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.”
Currently on trial in Izmir, Brunson faces 35 years in prison on terror and espionage charges.
Brunson, the pastor of a small Protestant church in the western city of İzmir, was detained in October 2016 on so-called immigration charges. Prosecutors accuse Brunson of activities on behalf of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as well as the group inspired by US-based preacher Fethullah Gülen, accused by the Turkish government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of orchestrating a July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. The movement strongly denies the allegations.
The indictment against him — based on the testimony of secret witnesses — claims the pastor worked to convert Kurds to Christianity to sow discord in Turkey.
Erdoğan has publicly acknowledged Brunson is being held captive in order to force the US government to extradite Gülen, who is living in exile in Pennsylvania, but the US has not seen adequate evidence to support Erdoğan’s allegations, according to American officials.
“Now, a year and a 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 urged Americans to avoid traveling to Turkey and to refrain from doing business there.
“I would discourage anyone that 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 a half in Turkey with false charges,” Lankford added.
“I would highly recommend no one does business in Turkey at this moment.”
In reference to a House bill that would block all defense sales to Turkey until Turkey’s future direction can be determined, Lankford said, “That is a reasonable precaution to take in a nation that is rapidly shifting away from democracy and from a free court, free speech and freedom of religion.”