Turkey sentences US consulate employee to 5 years in prison on terror charges: report

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, Turkish Minute reported.

The verdict 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 Gülen, who inspired the faith-based Gülen/Hizmet 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.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the movement since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen strongly denies involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity. Following the allegations, Gülen called on the Turkish government to allow for an international investigation.

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.

As part of the crackdown against the Gülen/Hizmet movement, Erdoğan dismissed over 150,000 public servants including members of the armed forces, police officers, teachers, doctors and academics by emergency decree-laws, locking up tens of thousands and seizing their assets.

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