Published: Tue, April 17, 2018

United States pastor Andrew Brunson on trial in Turkey for links to coup

United States pastor Andrew Brunson on trial in Turkey for links to coup

Aliaga. The relationship between the United States and Turkey is likely to come under pressure as long as a US pastor remains in jail, a USA official responsible for global religious freedom said on Monday.

Andrew Brunson, imprisoned in Turkey since a 2016 coup attempt, faces a maximum of 35 years in prison for pursuing goals of two of Ankara's sworn enemies, state-run Anadolu news agency reported: us -based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the government accuses of masterminding the botched putsch, and the autonomy-seeking Kurdish PKK group, branded a terrorist organization by the USA, the European Union and Turkey.

Despite being a Christian community leader, the Turkish government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrested Brunson in December 2016 on accusations that he supported Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric living in Pennsylvania, and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a Marxist, U.S. -designated terrorist group.

Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Samuel Dale Brownback, U.S. ambassador-at-large for worldwide religious freedom at State Department, attended the opening hearing against Brunson in the Aegean port town of Aliaga to stress the U.S. sensitivity about the case.

He described how the case could take two eyars or more, according to Brunson's lawyer but that there was some sign of light: "There are some hopes that he may be released - there was a slightly similar case of a German-Turkish journalist who had been in prison for more than a year and when his court case started he was released". Brunson denies any wrongdoing.

Brunson - wearing a black suit, speaking fluent Turkish and sometimes bursting into tears - emphatically rejected all the charges against him at the first hearing at the court in the town of Aliaga on Monday.

"I haven't done anything against Turkey. Their aims and mine are different". "What is being shown here is my service and it is called a cover", he told the court.

"I have never done anything against Turkey". I love Turkey. I've been praying for Turkey for 25 years.


Cumhuriyet said the pastor wept in court during an afternoon session, saying being alone in a cell had affected his psychological state.

Both U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback and North Carolina Sen.

Washington has been trying to work with Turkey to release Brunson, instead of being seen as overly critical.

"It is unconscionable that Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally, has unjustly held an American pastor in prison since October 2016", Lankford said. If convicted, he risks up to 35 years in jail.

The indictment against him - based on the testimony of witnesses, including three secret ones, and digital evidence - claims the pastor worked to convert Kurds to Christianity to sow discord.

President Donald Trump shakes hands with President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Roosevelt Room where they issued a joint statement following their meeting at the White House, May 16, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Turkey has submitted an extradition request to the US for Gulen, who lives in Saylorsburg, Monroe County, Pennsylvania, but so far it has not been granted.

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