Apr 26 2019

Third U.S. Consulate worker hit with terror charges in Turkey "was doing his job", says State Dept.

Turkish authorities have indicted a third U.S. Consulate worker and his wife and daughter on charges of membership of a terrorist organisation, Reuters reported on Friday.

Nazmi Mete Cantürk, a worker from the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, and his family were charged with membership of the outlawed Gülen religious group, Reuters said, citing a copy of the indictment. The prosecutor is seeking a jail sentence for all three.

The indictment says Cantürk was in contact with dozens of members of the Gülen group, which Turkey blames for organising the coup attempt in July 2016, and suggests he had acted on the group’s orders.

A State Department spokesperson contacted by Reuters said Washington had seen “no credible evidence that Canturk was involved in any illegal activities."

"Over the course of his 30-year career, Mr. Canturk made many contacts with Turkish government and security officials, seeking only to advance bilateral efforts to counter terrorism and promote the safety and security of both nations," a State Department spokesperson told Ahval. "In making and maintaining these contacts, Mr. Canturk was simply doing his job."   

Two other Turkish workers at local U.S. consulates were arrested on terrorism and espionage charges in 2017, prompting a diplomatic row that year as the United States cancelled visa applications in response.

The arrest and long detention of Andrew Brunson, a U.S. pastor who had lived in Turkey for decades, caused an even more serious fallout last year, when the United States placed sanctions on two Turkish ministers involved in the case.

Brunson was also accused of terror links and espionage, with some charges relating to the July 2016 coup attempt. He was released by a Turkish court in October.

Two U.S. senators have introduced a bill that if passed will require the imposition of sanctions on Turkish officials responsible for imprisoning U.S. citizens and staff.

Metin Topuz, a Turkish citizen who worked for the Drug Enforcement Agency at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul, is jailed pending trial, with his next hearing due in May. 

The other consulate worker, Hamza Uluçay, was released in January after being held for almost two years. 

Serkan Gölge, a Turkish-American scientist, was arrested shortly after the coup attempt in 2016 and sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison last year.

The dispute over Brunson contributed to a serious fall in the lira’s value last year, with the lira hitting a low of around 7 to the dollar in mid-August, after U.S. President Donald Trump raised tariffs on Turkish metals in response to the pastor’s imprisonment.

The lira recovered by the end of the year, but has been steadily sliding again this month, after reports emerged that the central bank’s foreign currency reserves had depleted.