Jun 13 2018

Top U.S. senator proposes sanctions on Turkey

U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, head of the Helsinki Commission, introduced a bipartisan resolution urging President Donald Trump to sanction seven countries including Turkey for violating religious freedoms.

Resolution 539 called for measures against Turkish officials who are responsible for the imprisonment of pastor Andrew Brunson, jailed since 2016 on terrorism charges.

“Designate Azerbaijan, Russia, and Turkey as ‘Special Watch List Countries’ for severe violations of religious freedom, and designate Kazakhstan if it continues to tighten restrictions on religious freedom,” said the resolution, also signed by five other senators, according to Hurriyet newspaper.

Turkey accuses Brunson of collaborating with the Fethullah Gulen movement, which it blames for orchestrating a failed military coup in July 2016 and designates as a terrorist organization. Brunson denies the charges, which are seen by some observers as “hostage diplomacy” in reaction to the failure of the United States to comply with a Turkish request to extradite Gulen from his home in Pennsylvania. Turkey recently granted Brunson belated medical treatment and approved his request for a jail transfer as a court case continues.

Helsinki Commissioner Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is the lead co-sponsor of the resolution, Hurriyet said. Other co-sponsors include Helsinki Commissioners Sen. Thom Tillis, Sen. John Boozman, Sen. Cory Gardner and Sen. James Lankford.

The resolution also called for the re-designation of three nations -- Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan -- as “Countries of Particular Concern”. Individual violators in all seven countries should be prevented from entering the United States and given financial sanctions, the document said.

“This resolution is a blueprint for action in a region where governments have often attacked religious freedom instead of protecting it,” Wicker said. “When governments take steps toward improvement, as Uzbekistan has done, we should support and bolster their efforts.”