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ISTANBUL, June 25 (Reuters) - A Turkish court ruled on Tuesday to release U.S. Consulate employee Nazmi Mete Canturk from house arrest on health grounds but said he could not leave the country during his trial.
Canturk, a security officer at the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, and his wife and daughter are accused of links to the network of Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based Muslim cleric blamed by Ankara for a failed 2016 coup.
In court on Tuesday, Canturk denied he is a member of Gulen's organisation. That charge was set out an indictment which also said Canturk was in contact with dozens of people under investigation for membership of Gulen's network.
However, he said he only spoke with officials who he needed to contact as required by his job. "The people in these offices are public officials appointed by the state. It is impossible for me to know if these people had criminal records. There was no such obligation on my part," he said.
Canturk said that in addition to having hypertension and diabetes, he suffered a heart attack in 2008 and needs to see his doctor regularly. His long house arrest has worsened his health, he said. "This measure, which has continued for 17 months, has turned into a punishment."
Taking into account his 17 months spent under house arrest and his health, the court released him from house arrest and ordered him to report to local authorities as the trial continues.
U.S. Charges d'Affaires Jeffrey Hovenier welcomed the move.
"We continue to have seen no evidence to support the charges brought against him, and we reiterate our call for this process, as well as other processes involving our unjustly detained staff, to be resolved quickly, transparently and fairly," he told journalists outside the courthouse.
Canturk is the third U.S. consulate worker to stand trial and face charges of membership of an armed terrorist organisation.
One of the three, Hamza Ulucay, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison on terrorism charges but was released in January, with travel restrictions, after almost two years in detention. (Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun and Sarah Dadouch Editing by Dominic Evans)
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