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Turkey seeks life in prison for U.S. consulate worker - agency

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ANKARA (Reuters) - A Turkish employee of the U.S. consulate in Istanbul could face life in jail if convicted of espionage and coup charges accepted by a court on Friday, state-owned Anadolu news agency reported.

Metin Topuz' arrest in October 2017 exacerbated tensions between Washington and Ankara, already strained over U.S. support for Kurdish fighters in Syria, Turkey's plan to buy a Russian defence system, and the U.S. jailing of an executive at a Turkish state bank in an Iran sanctions-busting case.

The Istanbul court ruled to keep Topuz, a translator and fixer for the Drug Enforcement Agency, in detention until trial hearings scheduled for March 26, Anadolu said.

Topuz was arrested over alleged links to the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey accuses of a coup attempt in 2016. Gulen denies that.

The indictment seeks life imprisonment for Topuz on charges of "attempting to overthrow the constitutional order", spying and "attempting to remove the government".

Ankara has repeatedly demanded that Washington extradite Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile since 1999.

Turkey has detained 160,000 people and dismissed nearly the same number of civil servants over suspected coup links, according to the U.N. human rights office.

There was some easing of U.S.-Turkish tensions late last year when a Turkish court freed a U.S. pastor detained for two years over accusations of links to Kurdish militants and supporters of Gulen.

On Wednesday, a Turkish court freed another employee of the U.S. consulate in the southern city of Adana, after it convicted him of membership and support for an armed terrorist organisation.

Hamza Ulucay, a translator at the U.S. consulate in Adana, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in jail, but walked free due to time served.

(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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