April 9, 2019 / 11:13 PM / 4 months ago

U.S. senators introduce bill to sanction Turkish officials over detentions

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two U.S. senators on Tuesday introduced a bipartisan bill requiring the imposition of sanctions on Turkish officials responsible for the detentions of U.S. citizens and local consulate staff in Turkey, a statement on the legislation said.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump closes his eyes in prayer along with Pastor Andrew Brunson, after his release from two years of Turkish detention, in the Oval Office of the White House, Washington, U.S., October 13, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Theiler/File Photo

The bill, introduced by Republican Senator Roger Wicker and Democrat Ben Cardin, also calls on President Donald Trump to urge Turkey to respect for the fundamental freedoms, saying thousands were victims of politically-motivated prosecution.

“The Turkish government’s false imprisonment of Americans and Turkish citizens employed by the United States in Turkey is a gross violation of their human rights,” Senator Cardin said in the statement. “Our bill makes clear that the United States will not tolerate years of Turkish recalcitrance on these cases.”

The detention of U.S. consulate workers and American citizens is one of many issues dividing NATO allies Ankara and Washington, also at loggerheads over Syria policy and Turkey’s planned purchase of Russian missile defenses.

Their detentions prompted Washington in October 2017 to suspend all non-immigrant visa applications from the country, triggering a reciprocal move from Ankara that contributed to a deep crisis in bilateral ties.

The bill introduced Tuesday would require the U.S. administration to impose sanctions on all senior Turkish officials responsible for the “wrongful” detentions of U.S. citizens and staff, including barring the officials from travel to the United States and freezing any U.S. assets.

Turkey has detained tens of thousands of people following a failed coup in July 2016, saying they were linked with the network of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Islamic cleric blamed by Ankara for orchestrating the putsch.

U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson was among those jailed in the aftermath of the coup. He was released last October.

“While the Turkish government made a step in the right direction with the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson last October, more needs to be done for Turkey to show good faith and act like a NATO ally,” said Republican Senator Thom Tillis, one of six original sponsors of Tuesday’s bill.

Serkan Golge, a dual Turkish-U.S. citizen, was found guilty of being a member of an armed terrorist organization earlier this year and sentenced to seven years, six months in prison.

Three other Turkish citizens who were working at the U.S. consulates in Turkey have been under investigation or jailed over similar charges.

A Turkish court last month ruled that one of the consular workers, Metin Topuz, a translator and fixer in Istanbul, should remain in jail until his trial resumes in June.

Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Tom Brown

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