Trump calls Turkey’s detention of US pastor a ‘total Disgrace’

President Donald Trump shakes hands with President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Roosevelt Room where they issued a joint statement following their meeting at the White House, May 16, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Reuters pic)

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump said Turkey’s failure to release an American pastor from prison was a “total disgrace” and called on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to intervene.

A Turkish court on Wednesday refused to release the evangelical pastor, Andrew Brunson, with prosecutors claiming that he had had ties with separatist Kurdish militants. Brunson, who has been imprisoned since the failed coup attempt in July 2016, has denied charges of espionage and aiding Kurdish and Islamic terror groups.

“He has been held hostage far too long,” Trump wrote in a tweet on Wednesday night.

Erdogan “should do something to free this wonderful Christian husband & father,” Trump continued. “He has done nothing wrong, and his family needs him!”

The case is one of several irritants in the relationship between the US and Turkey, and American officials have threatened consequences if Ankara doesn’t release Americans imprisoned in the crackdown that followed the coup. Other strains between Washington and Ankara include U.S. support for Kurdish fighters who Turkey regards as terrorists and Turkey’s purchase of Russian military equipment.

Turkey has also demanded the US extradite Fethullah Gulen, a cleric and former Erdogan ally living in Pennsylvania, who Turkey says masterminded the coup plot.

Trump has previously asked that Brunson is freed, including after the release of an American missionary who had been detained in Venezuela. Vice President Mike Pence also called for Brunson’s release during a visit to his home state of North Carolina earlier this year.

The rebuke on Twitter comes just days after Trump and Erdogan, who last month won re-election in a vote that granted him broad new powers, were seen speaking at length during a gathering of Nato leaders in Brussels.

Turkish markets fell on Wednesday after the court ruled that Brunson must remain in prison.