US Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma told American businessman he would not recommend going to Turkey for business due to its poor treatment of US citizens, during an interview on MSNBC’s political talk show “Morning Joe.”
“We have Americans that are picked up, swept up, put in false charges and put in prison,” said Lankford.
Lankford said Turkey was no longer a good place to do business, adding that the country “has changed over the last two years” since a 2016 July coup attempt that left 249 people dead.
Lankford added that US citizens should not increase business and investment in Turkey “until we know who Turkey is going to be, until we know Americans can be safe when they travel to Turkey.”
Republican Senator Lankford appeared alongside Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire on one of the most popular morning shows in the United States on Thursday.
Senators Langford and Shaheen raised the situation of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a US citizen who has been in pretrial detention in Turkey for over 18 months on espionage and terrorism charges.
“This is a completely invented kangaroo court that’s there to try to prove some kind of point against the United States,” said Lankford, referring to transcripts from Brunson’s trial that featured anonymous witnesses testifying against Brunson based on hearsay.
Brunson is “basically being held as hostage by Turkish President Erdoğan. Erdoğan has been so bold as to say, ‘I will trade you your pastor for my pastor,’ meaning Fethullah Gülen,” said Shaheen. This is a blatant attempt to blackmail the United States, and we’re not going to stand for it …”
“I thought I would never say I want Turkey to act more like North Korea and actually release our hostages — it seems like an odd thing to say to a NATO ally,” added Lankford.
Gülen, a Turkish cleric who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, is accused by the Turkish government of masterminding the 2016 coup attempt, an accusation strongly denied by Gülen and the movement he inspired.
Shaheen said Erdoğan had been “very shaken” by the coup attempt and had “doubled down on his authoritarian tendencies” as a result, adding that “his behavior is not acceptable” for addressing concerns he has about Turkey.
A state of emergency has been in place in Turkey since shortly after the attempt was made, under which some 150,000 people have been jailed or removed from their civil service jobs.
The show’s host, Joe Scarborough, was also highly critical of Erdoğan, saying that he presides over a country that is the world leader for jailing journalists and had made Turkey into “a highway” used by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to get into Syria.
The US “needs to send a strong message when [Turkey] act[s] inappropriately … and let them know human rights violations are not acceptable,” said Shaheen.
The two senators also discussed their call for targeted sanctions against individuals involved in the case against Brunson as well as efforts to halt military sales to Turkey, including a ban on the sale of F-35 fighter jets being produced by Lockheed.
(Ahval with Turkish Minute)