A court on Tuesday sentenced Nazmi Mete Cantürk, a Turkish security officer at the US Consulate General in İstanbul, to more than five years in prison for aiding the Gülen movement, labeled by Ankara as a terrorist organization and accused of masterminding a coup attempt in 2016.
The verdict, which could further strain Turkish-US relations, was handed during the final hearing of the trial, which was held at the İstanbul 27th High Criminal Court on Tuesday and attended by Cantürk, his wife Sevim and his daughter Kevser İrem, with İstanbul Consul General Daria Darnell and Chargé d’Affaires Jeffrey M. Hovenier from the embassy in Ankara observing.
Cantürk received five years, two-and-a-half months for “knowingly and willingly aiding a terrorist organization,” while his wife and daughter were acquitted by the court due to a lack of evidence. The court did not arrest Cantürk, meaning he will be free pending appeal.
Denying being a follower of the US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, who inspired the faith-based movement, Cantürk said in his final defense on Tuesday that his job required coordinating with local officials on security issues, according to the Turkish media.
“Upon my manager’s orders, I met with people I needed to meet as part of my job. The people in these positions were civil servants appointed by the government. It was not possible for me to know if these people were involved in a crime,” he reportedly argued.
Cantürk is not the first US employee to be convicted by a Turkish court. Hamza Uluçay, a translator who had worked at the US Consulate in the southern city of Adana for over 30 years, was also sentenced on similar charges to four-and-a-half years in prison last year. Metin Topuz, a translator for the US Drug Enforcement Administration at the consulate in Istanbul, was sentenced in June to nearly nine years for aiding the Gülen movement.
Cantürk had been confined to house arrest by the same court on January 31, 2018, based on the statements of Topuz, and released 17 months later, on June 25, 2019.
The trial of the consulate employee could further strain the relationship between NATO allies Turkey and the US, whose ties deteriorated after Turkey’s purchase of a Russian missile defense system. The S-400 system was in the spotlight in recent weeks when Ankara tested it, evoking an angry response from Washington.
According to critics, the US-Turkish relationship is unlikely to improve in the short term if Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate and front-runner, wins the US presidential election on November 3. Although Gülen and his followers strongly deny any links to the attempted coup, over 280,000 people allegedly affiliated with the group have been detained on coup-related charges, with 94,975 of them arrested, since 2016, Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said in July.