A Turkish prosecutor is demanding a life sentence for American Pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been detained since Oct. 7, 2016 over his alleged links with an armed terrorist organization.
Brunson, who has formally led Izmir Resurrection Church for over 22 years, has been charged with being a "member and executive of the terrorist group" accused of being behind the failed coup attempt in Turkey last year.
According to Al-Monitor, Turkey has blamed U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen for the coup attempt, and the government has been demanding his extradition.
However, the U.S. has refused to hand over the cleric, who is now living in Pennsylvania, on the grounds that Turkey has not provided enough evidence to prove its claims against him.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a statement condemning the new indictment against Brunson and called on President Donald Trump and members of his administration to "redouble their ongoing efforts to secure Pastor Brunson's release."
"No stone should be left unturned in our efforts on behalf of this unjustly imprisoned American. We call again for his immediate release and, if this is not forthcoming, for the administration and Congress to impose targeted sanctions against those involved in this miscarriage of justice," said USCIRF Vice Chairs Sandra Jolley and Kristina Arriaga.
On Friday, Brunson's daughter, Jacqueline, addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council, saying the allegations against her father was 'absurd" and that he had been wrongfully imprisoned.
"Turkey should not get away with holding my father one more day," she said, urging the U.N. to do what it can to help him be released.
The indictment came as the U.S. Congress considers imposing new sanction Turkey for the alleged unlawful detention of U.S. citizens and Turkish employees working at U.S. diplomatic missions in the country.
The proposal involves visa bans on Turkish officials that were deemed to have participated in decisions that led to the incarcerations of U.S. citizens.
Congress reportedly backed down from introducing the measure after the State Department pushed back in an attempt to repair relations with Ankara.
Turkey–U.S. relations have steadily deteriorated over U.S. support for Kurdish militants in Syria and the detention of two Turkish employees working for U.S. missions.
In September 2017, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan had suggested that Brunson could be freed if the U.S. would hand over Gulen.
"They say 'give us the pastor'. You have a preacher (Gulen) there. Give him to us, and we will try (Brunson) and give him back," Erdogan said at the time.