Hours after US President Donald Trump called on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to release a jailed American pastor in Turkey, the Turkish Foreign Ministry stated that it had urged Americans not to delay matters pertaining to Turkish-Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who lives in the US.
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hami Aksoy confirmed Thursday that Turkey had urged the US to not delay matters relating to FETÖ, a derogatory term coined by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to refer to Fethullah Gülen and the faith-based Gülen movement, during a working group meeting on July 13 in Ankara.
Officials from the US State Department and Department of Justice held talks with Turkish officials at the Foreign Ministry. The US delegation met with prosecutors and judges handling the trials of Gülen movement members.
Gülen is a Turkish Muslim cleric living in self-imposed exile in the US who Erdoğan and his AKP government accuse of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016 and whose extradition they have requested. The Gülen movement strongly denies any involvement in the abortive putsch.
Trump on Wednesday urged Erdoğan to release an American pastor who has been in prison in Turkey for nearly two years, calling his continued detention a “total disgrace.”
A Turkish court on Wednesday ruled to keep in custody American pastor Andrew Brunson, who was jailed in October 2016 on espionage and terror charges, setting the next hearing for Oct. 12. Brunson faces up to 35 years in prison.
“A total disgrace that Turkey will not release a respected U.S. Pastor, Andrew Brunson, from prison. He has been held hostage far too long. @RT_Erdogan should do something to free this wonderful Christian husband & father. He has done nothing wrong, and his family needs him!” Trump tweeted.
Erdoğan in September had called on Washington to swap Brunson for Gülen.
“Some people are trying to divide us, crush us. But they will not be able to divide this nation and country, they will not be able to demolish it. They want a pastor [Andrew Brunson] from us, you have a pastor [Fethullah Gülen], too. Extradite him so that we can prosecute him.”
President Erdoğan and his ruling AKP government pursued a crackdown on the movement following corruption operations in December 2013 in which the inner circle of the government and then-Prime Minister Erdoğan were implicated.
Erdoğan also accuses the Gülen movement of masterminding a coup attempt in July 2016.
Despite the movement strongly denying involvement in the failed coup, Erdoğan launched a witch-hunt targeting the group following the abortive putsch.
The Turkish government dismissed over 160,000 civil servants after the 2016 coup attempt.
According to a European Commission (EC) report on April 17, since the introduction of a state of emergency on July 20, 2016, over 150,000 people were taken into custody and 78,000 were arrested.
Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Dec. 12, 2017 said 234,419 passports had been revoked as part of investigations into the Gülen movement since a failed coup.
On Nov. 16, 2017 Soylu had said eight holdings and 1,020 companies were seized as part of operations against the movement.