U.S. should sanction Turkey over “hostage diplomacy” - analyst

That Turkey is holding foreign nationals hostage to use as bargaining chips is acknowledged in Western capitals, writes Nate Schenkkan in Foreign Policy magazine, adding that Western diplomats and politicians are wary of discussing the topic openly.

A number of high profile cases have led to accusations that Turkey has a policy of “hostage diplomacy”. The most prominent were the detention of German journalist Deniz Yücel, released last month after more than year in Turkish custody, and an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, detained since October 2016.

Whilst Turkish officials deny using foreign nationals as bargaining chips, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself stated in connection to Brunson that the United States should swap “a pastor for a pastor.” This implies that Erdoğan would release Brunson in exchange for his arch-enemy Fethullah Gülen, a cleric residing in Pennsylvania. 

The perception that Turkey is engaged in “hostage diplomacy” has become so widely accepted that when Czech authorities briefly detained Syrian Kurdish leader Salih Muslim last weekend, speculation immediately turned to whether the Czech government would extradite him to Turkey in exchange for two Czechs currently in Turkish prisons. 

Schenkkan continues, “This is an unacceptable state of affairs for relations between allies. No citizen of an allied country should have to wonder if Turkey will make their freedom a bargaining chip,” adding that the U.S. congress is considering legislation to punish Turkey.

The proposed legislation would impose sanctions on Turkish officials involved in the wrongful detention of American citizens, a move that Schenkkan describes as a “clear and logical response to hostage-taking.”

U.S. senator James Lankford further suggested, a fortnight ago in the Wall Street Journal, that any response to Turkish hostage taking could be coupled with use of the Global Magnitsky Act. This legislation, passed in 2016, allows the U.S. president to sanction individuals and entities responsible for serious human rights violations anywhere in the world, barring them from travel to the United States, freezing their assets, and freezing them out of the U.S. financial system.

Schenkkan concludes, “Congress and the Trump administration must demonstrate to Ankara that even as the U.S.-Turkey relationship becomes more transactional, there are certain areas that will never be subject to a bargain,” adding that the U.S.  “Will continue to place anti-corruption and rule-of-law issues squarely in the center of its bilateral relations with Turkey. It is, after all, still an ally — for now.”