Turkey on Tuesday warned the United States that if it fails to extradite Fethullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based cleric Turkey accuses of planning a failed coup attempt, it would cause great harm to relations between the countries.
"If the US does not deliver [Gulen], they will sacrifice relations with Turkey for the sake of a terrorist," Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said during a televised interview.
The Turkish government has repeatedly tried to pressure the U.S. into handing over Gulen since shortly after the failed July 15 coup attempt.
Last week, lawyers representing Gulen said the Turkish government had provided no evidence to prove his involvement in the coup, and that Gulen “should not and will not be extradited.”
One of the attorneys, Reid Weingarten, added that three Turkish ministers who visited the U.S. last week to try and seek Gulen’s extradition only served to intensify the “complexity and absurdity” of the conspiracy allegations lodged against Gulen.
"Extradition is fundamentally a legal process. We are lawyers and we deal with evidence and we deal with due process and — guess what? — in extradition proceedings, evidence matters and due process matters," he said.
Turkish people use their cell phones to take images before the speech of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Democracy and Martyrs' Rally in Istanbul, Aug. 7, 2016.
Washington has said that in order for the extradition process to begin, Turkey would need to provide solid evidence of Gulen’s involvement in the coup attempt.
Bozdag said during the interview Monday that more than 26,000 people had been detained in connection with the coup attempt – many of whom were members of the military, journalists and academics. Of those, he said more than 16,000 people had been formally arrested.
Weingarten said the mass detainment in Turkey shows that Gulen wouldn’t get a fair trial if he were extradited.
Nearly 70,000 people in the military, judiciary, civil service and education system have been detained, suspended or placed under investigation following the July 15 coup attempt, prompting fears that Erdogan is using the event to crack down on dissent.
More than 270 people died and thousands were wounded as mutinous soldiers commandeered fighter jets, helicopters and tanks in the failed attempt to topple the government.
Gulen has denied any involvement or knowledge of the failed coup attempt and has condemned it.