ANKARA (Reuters) - The spokesman for President Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday slammed what he said was the United States’ disregard for Turkey’s legal process, adding Washington had made arbitrary comments and demands in the case of a detained pastor.
In a statement to Reuters, Ibrahim Kalin called on the United States to respect Turkey’s judicial independence, one of Ankara’s most pointed responses yet to criticism over its detention of evangelical Christian pastor Andrew Brunson.
“There is rule of law in Turkey and the Andrew Brunson case is a legal issue. There is an ongoing legal process related to this individual,” Kalin said.
“It goes without saying that we find unacceptable the disregard of the legal process by the United States, which has been making certain demands.”
His comments came after President Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton earlier told Reuters that Turkey made a “big mistake” in not releasing Brunson.
Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for two decades, has been detained for 21 months on terrorism charges, which he denies, and is now under house arrest.
Trump, who counts evangelical Christians among his core supporters, has become a vocal champion of the pastor’s case, making him an unwitting flashpoint in the tension between two NATO allies.
“Every day that goes by that mistake continues, this crisis could be over instantly if they did the right thing as a NATO ally, part of the West, and release (him) ... without condition,” Bolton said.
Kalin, dismissed those statement as “arbitrary” comments and demands. He also hit back against the United States over an investigation into state-owned lender Halkbank for potential Iran-sanctions busting.
Turkey wants the U.S. Treasury to halt the investigation. Halkbank has said all of its transactions were legal. A U.S. court this year sentenced one of its executives to 32 months in prison for involvement in a scheme to avoid Iran sanctions.
“It is unacceptable that certain baseless and false allegations are made against Halkbank to weaken this public bank,” Kalin said.
“It seems that the purpose of those steps is to discredit respectable institutions and persons, and to punish them unjustly rather than discover the truth.”
Reporting by Orhan Coskun; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by James Dalgleish