A Turkish prosecutor’s call to sentence a U.S. pastor to life in prison for allegedly leading a coup attempt in Turkey will only strengthen calls for Washington to impose economic sanctions on Turkey, said Aykan Erdemir, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
A statement by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is now urging the U.S. administration and Congress to “redouble their ongoing efforts” to impose “targeted sanctions against those involved in this miscarriage of justice”, Erdemir wrote in an analysis.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has intensified a crackdown on dissent against his government since a failed military coup in July 2016, imposing emergency rule and passing laws by decreee. Police and prosecutors have locked up tens of thousands of people with many yet to face trial or learn the evidence against them.
The lawyer for Pastor Andrew Brunson, who served a small protestant congregation in the western city of Izmir for two decades until his pretrial detention in October 2016, has to defend him without access to “secret evidence” and a “secret witness”, Erdemir said. Brunson has lost more than 50lbs in weight and is the only American prisoner in a high security jail.
Earlier this year, Senator James Lankford called on the White House to institute targeted sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act to deny entry to the U.S. to Turkish officials “knowingly responsible for the wrongful or unlawful prolonged detention of citizens or nationals of the United States.”
Some U.S. politicians accuse Turkey of holding Brunson hostage in order to persuade Washington to extradite Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, who Turkey blames for masterminding the coup attempt. Gülen denies the charges and U.S. officials have said the evidence supplied by Turkey is insufficient.
In December 2017, Pastor Brunson shared a note with his wife, saying, “one of my big fears has been that I will be forgotten in prison”, Erdemir said.
Erdemir is a former parliamentarian for the main opposition and secular Republican People’s Party (CHP).