Turkey should release American pastor Andrew Brunson “now,” the US State Department said, repeating a warning that the country faces sanctions should it fail to do so.
“Brunson is innocent and his release is long overdue,” US State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters in Washington on Tuesday. The United States has had numerous conversations with Turkey about the very real risk of sanctions for the government, Nauert said. “In terms of precise sanctions or forecasting exact sanctions, that I’m not going to be able to do,” she added.
Brunson, who has worked for more than two decades at a church in İzmir province in western Turkey, was placed under house arrest last month, ending a period of over 18 months in jail on charges of terrorism.
He was arrested following a failed military coup in July 2016. Local media reports accuse Brunson of working for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and he is charged with collaborating with groups including the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Gülen movement.
The US government was also working hard to bring home three locally employed consular staff, Nauert said. Claims that the US had not been advocating for their release were “flat-out untrue,” she said.
“We would also like to bring home the three locally employed staff who have also been detained, which, by the way, I want to point out to all of you – we’ve spoken about our locally employed staff who’ve been detained in Turkey for far too long as well. There was a piece in a local newspaper here that claimed that the State Department had not been advocating for their release,” said Nauert.
“I want to let you all know that that is flat-out untrue, that we’ve had lots of engagements with our – with Turkish counterparts about getting our locally employed staff out of prison as well, despite what you may have read in the papers. I just wanted to make that clear while we were talking about this.”
She also said: “We would like to bring our people home and get our people out of jail. I will be limited in terms of what I can say about the situation there. It is obviously very delicate.”
Hamza Uluçay, a 37-year veteran of the US diplomatic service, has been jailed since February 2017 based on “evidence” that dollar bills found in his home constituted proof of his involvement in the abortive coup.
Twenty-year State Department veteran Metin Topuz was likewise detained for allegedly attempting to overthrow the Turkish government and suspected links to the Gülen movement.
Nazmi Mete Cantürk, who is charged with espionage and attempting to overthrow the government, has been under house arrest since January.