Turkey frees US consulate worker from house arrest before G20

A Turkish court has ruled that a US Consulate employee who is currently being tried on terrorism charges be freed on grounds of ill health just a few days ahead of the scheduled G20 Summit in Tokyo, Reuters reported on Tuesday.

US president Donald Trump and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan are expected to meet in Tokyo for the G20 summit on Friday and Saturday and discuss Ankara’s planned purchase of the Russian S-400 defense system.

The court reportedly lifted the restrictions on Nazmi Mete Canturk, a Turkish security officer at the Istanbul Consulate, on health grounds.

Along with his wife and daughter, Canturk is on trial for alleged links to the network of Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Muslim cleric accused by Ankara of orchestrating the attempted coup on July 15, 2016.

Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government designates the faith-based Gülen network as a terrorist organization.

Although the trials of US citizens and local consulate workers in Turkey have been a main source of disagreement, ties between the two NATO allies have also worsened over differences in policy in Syria and Ankara’s plan to buy Russian S-400s in recent years.

The indictment prepared against Canturk includes charges that he was in contact with dozens of people under investigation for membership of Gulen’s organization.

The consulate worker on Tuesday denied being a member of Gulen’s group and argued that he only spoke to officials that his profession required him to get in contact with.

“The people in these offices are public officials appointed by the state. It is impossible for me to know if these people had criminal records. There was no such obligation on my part,” he argued.

Canturk also indicated that he had a heart attack in 2008, in addition to having high blood pressure and diabetes. He added that his health has deteriorated because of his 17-months long house arrest which is why he needed to see his doctor regularly.

The court ruled that Canturk be freed from house arrest taking into account his current health situation but ordered him to report regularly to local authorities.

Control measures that required his wife Sevim and daughter Irem Canturk, who also deny the terror charges against them to regularly report to local authorities were also lifted by the court.

However, all three defendants remain banned from traveling abroad.

Reuters said that the trial will continue on October 2.

Jeffrey Hovenier, the US Charge d’Affaires welcomed Tuesday’s ruling and told journalists outside the courthouse that they still don’t see any evidence supporting the claims against Canturk.

“We continue to have seen no evidence to support the charges brought against him (Nazmi Canturk), and we reiterate our call for this process, as well as other processes involving our unjustly detained staff, to be resolved quickly, transparently and fairly,” he underlined.

Another US consulate employee Hamza Ulucay, who was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison on terror-related charges, was released after almost two years in detention, with travel restrictions, in January.

Metin Topuz, who is also a consulate worker remanded in custody after two sessions of a trial on espionage charges, is scheduled to appear before a judge on Friday.

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