The US State Department has said it would like to see American pastor Andrew Brunson sent home from Turkey now, repeating a warning that Ankara faces sanctions should it fail to do so.
“We would certainly like Pastor Brunson to be sent home now. It’s long overdue. It’s been a long time coming. He is innocent. We have – continue to have concerns about his longstanding detainment in Turkey. A step in the right direction certainly that he is under house arrest, but that’s certainly not far enough. We’d like him to be brought home,” State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters in Washington, D.C., at a press briefing on Tuesday.
The United States has had numerous conversations with Turkey about the very real risk of sanctions for the government, Nauert said. “In terms of precise sanctions or forecasting exact sanctions, that I’m not going to be able to do,” she added.
Brunson, who has worked for more than two decades at a church in İzmir province in western Turkey, was placed under house arrest last month, ending a period of more than 18 months in jail on charges of terrorism and espionage.
Brunson was arrested following a failed military coup in Turkey in July 2016. He is charged with collaborating with groups including the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Gülen movement, accused by the government of orchestrating the abortive putsch, an allegation the group strongly denies.
The US government is also working hard to bring home three locally employed consular staff, Nauert said. Claims that the US had not been advocating for their release were “flat-out untrue,” she said.
“We would also like to bring home the three locally employed staff who have also been detained, which, by the way, I want to point out to all of you – we’ve spoken about our locally employed staff who’ve been detained in Turkey for far too long as well. There was a piece in a local newspaper here that claimed that the State Department had not been advocating for their release,” said Nauert.
“I want to let you all know that that is flat-out untrue, that we’ve had lots of engagements with our – with Turkish counterparts about getting our locally employed staff out of prison as well, despite what you may have read in the papers. I just wanted to make that clear while we were talking about this.”
“We would like to bring our people home and get our people out of jail. I will be limited in terms of what I can say about the situation there. It is obviously very delicate.”
Hamza Uluçay, a 37-year veteran of the US diplomatic service, has been jailed since February 2017 based on “evidence” that dollar bills found in his home constituted proof of his involvement in the abortive coup.
Twenty-year State Department veteran Metin Topuz was likewise detained for allegedly attempting to overthrow the Turkish government and suspected links to the Gülen movement.
Nazmi Mete Cantürk, who is charged with espionage and attempting to overthrow the government, has been under house arrest since January.
(Turkish Minute with Stockholm Center for Freedom [SCF])