Turkey will not accept US threats over detained pastor: ministry

DAILY SABAH
ISTANBUL
Published 26.07.2018 20:17
Updated 26.07.2018 21:36
Turkey will not accept US threats over detained pastor: ministry

The U.S. government's use of threatening language is unacceptable, the foreign ministry said after U.S. President Donald Trump said the U.S. will impose economic sanctions on Ankara if it does not release terror-linked pastor Andrew Brunson.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hami Aksoy said: "Turkey is a sovereign state with a deep-rooted democratic tradition and political order which upholds the supremacy of law. No one can give orders to Turkey and threaten our country. The rhetoric of threat against Turkey is unacceptable."

Aksoy said Turkey has already done "more than enough" and displayed political will regarding the issue.

Andrew Craig Brunson, a North Carolina evangelical pastor, is accused of links to FETÖ as well as the PKK terrorist group, along with political espionage. A court in Izmir has ordered his imprisonment to be commuted to house arrest, citing Brunson's health problems.

He will also be fitted with an ankle monitor and barred from leaving the country. He is scheduled to appear before a court in October for his third hearing after the court rejected an appeal for his release at a July 18 hearing.

Trump tweeted Thursday that the United States "will impose large sanctions" on Turkey over the continued detainment of Brunson, calling him a "great Christian."

The president's remarks came shortly after a tough speech by Vice President Mike Pence in which he warned sanctions would come if Turkey did not take "immediate action" to release the pastor, who was arrested in 2016.

"Release pastor Andrew Brunson now or be prepared to face the consequences," Pence said, addressing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Turkish government directly, calling the detainee "an innocent man - there is no credible evidence against him."

"As regards the Brunson case, necessary information has been provided to our U.S. counterparts on various occasions and it has been clearly expressed that this issue is totally within the competence of the independent Turkish judiciary," Aksoy said.

Turkey's Foreign Minister responded to the threats by saying that Turkey was governed by the rule of law. "We will never tolerate threats from anybody," Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Twitter. He later held a phone call with US counterpart Pompeo regarding the matter. No further details were immediately available.

President Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalın also warned Washington over its threatening language and said the U.S. administration will not "reach desired results by threatening Turkey over an issue, which falls within the jurisdiction of our country's independent judiciary."

The spokesman also criticized the U.S. for not taking any steps against the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ).

Kalın urged the U.S. to reconsider its approach and adopt a constructive position before inflicting further damage to its own interests and alliance with Turkey.

"The U.S. administration, which has taken no steps whatsoever against the terrorist group FETÖ until today, must understand that it cannot reach desired results by threatening Turkey over an issue which falls within the jurisdiction of our country's independent judiciary," he said.

Vice President Fuat Oktay also commented on the matter, saying Turkey will not bow to "cheap threats" and the U.S. has to respect independent Turkish judicial system.

Witnesses in the case claimed Brunson had harbored PKK supporters in his church and coordinated a U.S. arms shipments to a group affiliated with the PKK in Syria. The indictment against Brunson also says he had contact with Bekir Baz, a fugitive senior member of FETÖ who was in charge of the group's network in İzmir. Turkish prosecutors say Brunson used his guise as a pastor to commit crimes for terrorist groups and coordinated actions with them. Apart from Baz, Brunson also contacted Murat Safa, a Turk who was "an aide" of Baz within FETÖ and Taner Kılıç, another FETÖ-linked man who is being tried for membership of a terrorist group. The indictment also includes a text message by Brunson to an unidentified U.S. soldier. Brunson says in the message that they would "win in the end" while speaking about the July 15 coup attempt.

The Brunson case has been a thorny issue between Washington and Ankara. Washinton has called on Ankara to release him, ignoring the fact that the judiciary is independent from the political administration. In a tweet after last week's hearing, U.S. President Donald Trump has claimed Brunson has been "held hostage" and urged Erdoğan "do something to free this wonderful Christian husband and father."

The pastor faces 35 years in jail on charges of espionage, committing crimes on behalf of FETÖ and the PKK.

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