Andrew Brunson was indicted with aiding group held responsible for coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdoan, further straining US-Turkish relations
A court in Turkey has ruled to keep an American rector in custody, saying that he was a potential flight risk as he went on trial in a case that has compounded stress in US-Turkish relations.
Andrew Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, was indicted on charges of helping a group accused of orchestrating the failed 2016 coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He faces up to 35 years in prison.
” I’ve never done something against Turkey. I love Turkey. I’ve been praying for Turkey for 25 years. I want truth to come out ,” Brunson told the court in the western Turkish town of Aliaga on Monday.
Brunson has been the pastor of Izmir Resurrection church, serving a small Protestant congregation in Turkey’s third-largest city.
” I do not accept the charges mentioned in the indictment. I was never to participate in any illegal activities ,” said Brunson, wearing a white shirt and black suit and building his defence in Turkish. His wife was in the courtroom, as were the North Carolina senator Thom Tillis and the US envoy for religious liberty, Sam Brownback.
But the magistrate ruled that Brunson had to stay in jail, pending another hearing on 7 May.
Brunson’s trial is one of several legal suits straining US-Turkish relations. The two countries are also at odds over US support for a Kurdish militia in northern Syria that Turkey considers a terrorist organisation.
Washington has called for Brunson’s release while Erdogan indicated last year his fate could be linked to that of the US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose extradition Ankara has repeatedly sought to face charges over the takeover attempt.
Gulen denies any association with the failed coup. Tens of thousands of Turks have been arrested or lost their jobs over alleged a link with the effort.
” The United States cares deeply about our relationship with Turkey ,” Brownback told reporters during a recess at the trial.” That relationship is going to have difficulty moving forward as long as Andrew Brunson is incarcerated .”
Brunson’s lawyer said the pastor, imprisoned 18 months ago, was in custody because of his religious beliefs. Turkey is a majority-Muslim country though constitutionally secular.
” There is evidence that depicts Brunson was apprehended due to his faith ,” Ismail Cem Halavurt told Reuters on the eve of the trial, saying Brunson’s religion role had been” classified as aiding terror organisations “.
The Izmir prosecutor’s office said that sufficient evidence had been obtained to charge Brunson with aiding armed terrorist organisations and procuring confidential government datum for political and military espionage.
A copy of Brunson’s indictment ensure by Reuters accuses him of working both with Gulen’s network and the Kurdistan Workers party( PKK) activist group, which has waged an rebellion in chiefly Kurdish south-east Turkey and is designated a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union.
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