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Turkish court jails US consul staffer to nearly 9 years for helping ‘terror group’

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A file photo of Metin Topuz, a local US consul staffer in Turkey, is seen against the background of an image of the US Embassy in Istanbul. (By Anadolu)

A court in Turkey has sentenced a local American consulate employee to nearly nine years in prison after he was found guilty of purportedly “aiding” an organization run by the US-based opposition cleric, Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for an attempted coup in 2016.

Metin Topuz on Thursday was given eight years and nine months in prison on charges of abetting Gulen’s transnational religious and social movement, which is regarded by Ankara as a terror organization and has  been branded as the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO).

Topuz, who used to work for some three decades as a liaison officer for the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Istanbul, was first arrested in 2017 over having alleged links to FETO.

According to the indictment, Topuz was found guilty on the grounds of having contacts with a key FETO fugitive, as well as with a number of former police chiefs and troopers affiliated with the “armed terror group” and also for aiding them in their activities, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

In an earlier court hearing, Topuz had said that his contacts with the police and the FETO fugitive, a former prosecutor, had been “part of my work as a translator and assistant liaison officer at the DEA.”

However, the Anadolu report said the US consulate employee had also been accused of four other different crimes, including an attempt to topple the Turkish government and espionage, but was acquitted due to lack of evidence.

The court of appeal is due to decide whether to uphold Topuz’s conviction, some reports quoted his lawyer as saying.

Turkey witnessed a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, when rogue soldiers moved to topple the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A few hours later, however, the coup was suppressed. Some 250 people were killed and over 2,000 others wounded in the abortive putsch.

Since then, Ankara has been insisting that Gulen masterminded and orchestrated the failed coup. Gulen has repeatedly denied the allegation.

Gulen has been in a self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999. Ankara has several times tried to persuade Washington to extradite him, but all to no avail so far.

Following the court order on Thursday, the US embassy in Istanbul issued a statement, saying it was “deeply disappointed” over the decision.

"US officials observed every hearing in the trial of Metin Topuz in Istanbul, and we are deeply disappointed in today's decision,” it said on Twitter.

“We have seen no credible evidence to support this conviction and hope it will swiftly be overturned,” the embassy added.

Shortly after the abortive coup in July 2016, the Turkish government began to crack down on putschists and sympathizers. So far, about 80,000 people have been jailed pending trial and some 150,000 civil servants, military personnel, and others sacked or suspended from their jobs.

The Turkish government says Gulen’s supporters have been running “a parallel state” within the civilian and military bureaucracy and pursuing their own agenda. 

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