US senator introduces resolution sanctioning Turkey for religious freedom violations

US Senator from Mississippi and Helsinki Commission Chairman Roger Wicker has introduced a bipartisan resolution urging President Donald Trump to take action against seven countries, including Turkey, for what it described as violations of religious freedom.

“Our founding fathers made religious freedom a cornerstone of our country, and President Trump carries that legacy forward by making religious freedom a cornerstone of his presidency. This resolution is a blueprint for action in a region where governments have often attacked religious freedom instead of protecting it. When governments take steps toward improvement, as Uzbekistan has done, we should support and bolster their efforts,” said Wicker in a US Helsinki Commission press release on Monday.

According to the resolution, the US president should “ … designate Azerbaijan, Russia, and Turkey as special watch list countries” for violations of religious freedom and “apply visa, entry into the United States, and property blocking sanctions targeting any foreign person found to engage in or be complicit in severe violations of religious freedom in … Turkey … including officials, agents, or others acting on behalf of the Government of Turkey responsible for the wrongful detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson …”

Brunson is an American pastor who has been jailed in Turkey since October 2016 “on false charges of membership in an armed terrorist group, espionage, and attempting to overthrow the state, provided no credible evidence, and denied him timely and credible due process,” according to the resolution.

The resolution also re-designates Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as countries of particular concern and recommends designating Kazakhstan on the special watch list countries, along with Azerbaijan, Russia and Turkey, if it continues to tighten restrictions on religious freedom.

Helsinki Commissioner Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire is the lead co-sponsor of the resolution. Other original co-sponsors of S.Res.539 include Helsinki Commissioners Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas, Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma.

The resolution was referred to the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Monday.

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