US senators introduce bill demanding Turkey end ‘unjust detention of Brunson’

Six US senators introduced bipartisan legislation on Thursday to restrict loans from international financial institutions to Turkey “until the Turkish government ends the unjust detention of US citizens,” a senate committee statement said, according to a report by Reuters.

A Turkish court on Wednesday ruled to keep in custody American pastor Andrew Brunson, who was jailed in October 2016 in Turkey on espionage and terror charges, setting the next hearing for Oct. 12. The case has deepened a rift with NATO ally Washington.

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday urged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to release Pastor Brunson calling his continued detention a “total disgrace.”

“A total disgrace that Turkey will not release a respected U.S. Pastor, Andrew Brunson, from prison. He has been held hostage far too long. @RT_Erdogan should do something to free this wonderful Christian husband & father. He has done nothing wrong, and his family needs him!” Trump tweeted.

The bill, known as the Turkey International Financial Institutions Act, directs the US executive of the World Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to oppose future loans, except for humanitarian purposes, to Turkey, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations statement said.

It said the opposition should continue until Turkey is “no longer arbitrarily detaining or denying freedom of movement to United States citizens (including dual citizens) or locally employed staff members of the United States mission to Turkey.”

Turkish prosecutors accuse Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, of activities on behalf of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as well as a group inspired by US-based preacher Fethullah Gülen, accused by the Turkish government of orchestrating a July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. The Gülen movement strongly denies any involvement in the abortive putsch.

Brunson, who denies the charges, faces up to 35 years in jail if found guilty. The United States and Turkey have been formal military allies since Turkey joined NATO in 1952.

Meanwhile, US President Trump’s former campaign manager and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon told CNBC on Wednesday that Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan “is the most dangerous guy in the world.”

Bannon appeared on TV to discuss the meeting between Trump and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, which sparked bipartisan outrage against Trump. Bannon said Trump “gravitates toward personalities that are strong personalities,” according to the Roll Call news website.

“He likes President Xi, he likes Erdoğan — who I think is the most dangerous guy in the world,” he added, in reference to the Chinese and Turkish presidents. “And I think he’s attracted to Putin because he looks at those people as strong leaders of countries. They’re nationalists. They put their countries first and they get on with it. And they don’t care what other people think.”

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. On December 13, 2017 the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018 that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016 and April 11, 2018 over alleged links to the Gülen movement.

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