Erdogan's comments spark speculation about Turkey keeping jailed American pastor as hostage

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan sparked speculations that he was keeping a jailed American pastor hostage when he called on the international community to help him, or else the foreign citizens that his country catches will never be returned.

(REUTERS / Murad Sezer)Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during a graduation ceremony at an Imam Hatip religious school association in Istanbul, Turkey, May 26, 2017.

On May 30, President Erdogan spoke to the parliamentary assembly of the ruling Justice and Development Party and gave a stark warning to countries that refuse to extradite Turkish nationals who were linked to Turkish Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen. Ankara has been demanding that Gulen, who has been residing in Pennsylvania for the last two decades, be extradited because he was suspected of being the leader of a failed coup attempt in July 2016, the World Watch Monitor details.

In addition, Turkey wants Germany and other European countries to extradite Turkish military officers, journalists, academics, and judges who have sought asylum after the government launched a massive crackdown into people suspected of involvement in the failed coup.

"I now call on the world that if you do not contribute to the restoration of honor [of those victims from July 15 coup], you should know that you will not receive anyone that is captured by us. Because counter terrorism is not local, it is the implementation of an international agreement," the Daily Sabah quoted Erdogan as saying. "If such international combat is being conducted, then we want you [other countries] to extradite those [Gülenists] immediately, as we will also deprive them of their citizenships."

Among the cases that have made its way to the national spotlight is that of American pastor Andrew Brunson, who was arrested in October over terror-linked allegations. However, his case file has been sealed and he remains imprisoned in Turkey even though not one of the actual charges that support the allegations of being a national security risk have been made known to him or his lawyer.

Speaking to Al-Monitor, the Association of Protestant Churches in Turkey's spokesman Soner Tufan expressed fears that Brunson's case was not criminal but is of a political nature. He noted that the working and residence permits of Protestants in several cities were canceled after Pastor Brunson was arrested.

The Protestant Community in Turkey reportedly fears that the government could use Pastor Brunson as a bargaining chip in extraditing Gulen from the U.S. Efforts to free the jailed pastor still have not shown concrete results, but his U.S.-based lawyer Jay Sekulow said the White House is committed to working for his release.