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US senators introduce legislation sanctioning Turkish officials over detentions

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Two US senators on Tuesday introduced a bipartisan bill requiring the imposition of sanctions on Turkish officials responsible for the detention of US citizens and local consulate staff in Turkey, a statement on the legislation said, according to Reuters.

The bill, introduced by Senators Roger Wicker and Ben Cardin, also calls on President Donald Trump to urge Turkey to restore respect for the fundamental freedoms of all its people, saying thousands have been victims of politically motivated prosecution. 

“The Turkish government’s false imprisonment of Americans and Turkish citizens employed by the United States in Turkey is a gross violation of their human rights,” Senator Cardin said in the statement. “Our bill makes clear that the United States will not tolerate years of Turkish recalcitrance on these cases.” 

The detention of US consulate workers and American citizens is one of many issues dividing NATO allies Ankara and Washington, also at loggerheads over Syria policy and Turkey’s planned purchase of Russian missile defenses. 

Their detentions prompted Washington in October 2017 to suspend all non-immigrant visa applications from the country, triggering a reciprocal move from Ankara that contributed to a deep crisis in bilateral ties.

The bill introduced on Tuesday would require the US administration to impose sanctions on all senior Turkish officials responsible for the “wrongful” detentions of US citizens and staff, including barring the officials from travel to the United States and freezing any US assets. 

Turkey has detained tens of thousands of people following a failed coup in July 2016, saying they were linked with the network of Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Islamic cleric accused by Ankara of orchestrating the abortive putsch. 

US pastor Andrew Brunson was among those jailed in the aftermath of the coup. He was released last October. 

“While the Turkish government made a step in the right direction with the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson last October, more needs to be done for Turkey to show good faith and act like a NATO ally,” said Republican Senator Thom Tillis, one of six original sponsors of Tuesday’s bill. 

Serkan Gölge, a dual Turkish-US citizen, was found guilty of membership in an armed terrorist organization earlier this year and sentenced to seven years, six months in prison.

Three other Turkish citizens who were working at the US consulates in Turkey have been under investigation or jailed on similar charges.

A Turkish court last month ruled that one of the consular workers, Metin Topuz, a translator and fixer in Istanbul, should remain in jail until his trial resumes in June.

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