Turkey on Saturday said it is "hypocritical" to call head of Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) -- a group behind the 2016 defeated coup in Turkey -- a "Muslim cleric and political figure" in a report released by the U.S. State Department.
"This description of the head of the terrorist organization that massacred our 251 citizens means ignoring or supporting the treacherous July 15 coup attempt," Hami Aksoy, the spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry, said in a statement.
The U.S. State Department had released the International Religious Freedom Report for 2018 on Friday.
"It is a hypocritical […] approach that those who claim that they are the defenders of democracy in the world call those who attempted a blow to democracy in an allied country as innocent clergy," it added.
The FETÖ and its U.S.-based leader Fetullah Gülen orchestrated the defeated coup of July 15, 2016, which left 251 people martyred and nearly 2,200 injured.
Turkey accuses FETÖ of being behind a long-running campaign to overthrow the state through the infiltration of Turkish institutions, particularly the military, police, and judiciary.
The statement also condemned the report for citing the conviction of the American pastor Andrew Brunson as a violation of religious freedom.
"Pastor Brunson was convicted not because of his religious beliefs, but because of his involvement in terrorism," it said, adding he was released and returned to his country after being punished by judicial order and not by sanctions or threats.
"The Brunson case continues to be widely cited in the report as a violation of religious freedom. This is nothing more than an attempt by the U.S. government to continue to exploit the matter and to unfairly criticize our country," the ministry spokesman added.
Brunson was arrested in December 2016 and charged in the Aegean province of Izmir with being a member of FETÖ, the group behind a defeated coup earlier that year.
Brunson was sentenced to a little more than three years in prison. In July 2018, it was changed to house arrest and finally in October he was released due to time served and good behavior in custody.
The statement also criticized the report for reflecting Turkey as an "anti-Semitic" country.
"The US State Department did not criticize Israel's aggressive behavior towards Harem-i Sharif, one of the most sacred places of Islam, however they spared no expense in mentioning Turkey's reaction to Israeli killings of civilians in Gaza Strip as "anti-Semitic discourse". This exposes the report's frivolity," it added.
About religious minorities, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said people from different religions continue to live in peace in the country, adding that Turkey will always protect freedom of religion for all of its citizens.
"If the State Department had talked to religious minorities in Turkey before writing this report, there is no doubt that the report would be much more realistic and respectable," the ministry statement added.
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