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Turkey: US Consulate translator convicted of terror charge

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Backdropped by a picture of modern Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, back left, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with his image right, talk to his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) provincial leadership members in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)

ISTANBUL (AP) — A Turkish citizen who worked as a translator for the U.S. Consulate in Adana was convicted on terror charges Wednesday but will be freed from prison, Turkey's official news agency reported.

A court in southeastern Mardin province convicted Hamza Ulucay of "knowingly and willingly aiding an armed terror organization" without membership in the group, Anadolu news agency said. Ulucay had denied the allegations and requested an acquittal while appearing in court through a video hookup.

The court in southeastern Mardin province sentenced Ulucay to 4 ½ years in prison, but released him with credit for the nearly two years he spent in pre-trial detention.

Ulucay was arrested in February 2017 for alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which is considered a terror group by Turkey and its NATO allies. Authorities alleged he attempted to "provoke" people on behalf of the Kurdish militants.

The top American diplomat in Ankara, Chargé d'Affaires Jeffrey M. Hovenier, attended Wednesday's court hearing along with other U.S. officials.

Two other U.S. government employees were arrested and are under investigation in Turkey. Mete Canturk worked for the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul and Metin Topuz for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

Topuz was indicted on charges of espionage and attempting to overthrow the government. He is accused of links to a U.S.-based Turkish cleric who the Turkish government blames for a 2016 coup attempt. His arrest in October led the U.S. and Turkish governments to suspend bilateral visa services for more than two months.

The detention of an American pastor who had lived and worked in Turkey for two decades provoked Washington's ire. To pressure Ankara to release Andrew Brunson last year, U.S. President Donald Trump sanctioned two Turkish officials and increased tariffs on aluminum and steel imports, leading to a nosedive of the Turkish lira.

Brunson was convicted in October 2017 for terror links but allowed to leave the country after spending nearly two years in detention.

Serkan Golge, a NASA scientist with U.S.-Turkish citizenship, also has been jailed in Turkey.

Backdropped by a picture of modern Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, back left, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with his image right, talk to his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) provincial leadership members in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)
Backdropped by a picture of modern Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, back left, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with his image right, talk to his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) provincial leadership members in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)