Turkey sentences US Consulate staffer to 8 years, 9 months on terrorism charges

An Istanbul court on Thursday sentenced US Consulate General staff member Metin Topuz to eight years, nine months in prison for aiding and abetting an armed terrorist organization.

Topuz was detained on September 25, 2017 and arrested on October 4 over his alleged links to police officers and prosecutors who initiated two corruption investigations in 2013 -– the so-called December 17-25 corruption operations that implicated then-Prime Minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his close associates.

Dismissing the probes as a Gülenist conspiracy aimed at overthrowing him, Erdoğan hushed up the investigations, had the police officers and prosecutors involved in the probes arrested and designated the Gülen movement, a faith-based dissident group led by a US based cleric, as an armed terrorist organization, initiating a witch hunt against individuals and organizations affiliated with the movement.

The Istanbul 14th High Criminal Court found Topuz guilty of aiding and abetting FETÖ (Fethullahist Terrorist Organization), a term concocted by the Turkish government to refer to the Gülen movement, and sentenced him to almost nine years in prison. The court also decided to keep Topuz under arrest pending appeal.

Topuz was acquitted of the other charges leveled against him, namely, obtaining classified information for purposes of espionage, unlawfully recording personal data, illegally exchanging personal data and violation of confidentiality.

The US Embassy in Ankara expressed deep disappointment at the court decision, saying in a statement, “We have seen no credible evidence to support this conviction and hope it will swiftly be overturned. …

“The allegations made about Mr. Topuz’s official duties misrepresent both the scope and nature of the important work undertaken by our local staff on behalf of the U.S. government and in the promotion of our bilateral relationship.”

During the court proceedings Topuz denied having any links to the Gülen movement. “I have committed no crime, as evidenced by the documents and witness testimony. … I had contacts with Turkish police, gendarmerie and customs agents solely in my capacity as the police liaison officer and under the instructions of my superiors.”

Topuz’s arrest sparked a diplomatic crisis between Washington and Ankara, prompting Washington to suspend all non-immigrant visa services at diplomatic missions in Turkey, which was immediately followed by the Turkish Embassy in Washington suspending visa applications from the US in October 2017.

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