A secret witness testifying anonymously against American pastor Andrew Brunson in Turkey has claimed that the cleric helped outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants and aimed to create a Christian Kurdish state, according to a report by The Associated Press (AP) on Monday.
The trial of Brunson, who faces up to 35 years in prison on terror and spying charges, resumed in Turkey’s İzmir province on Monday. Brunson rejected the claims in the second session of his trial on Monday, insisting that he “never permitted politics in church.”
The leader of a small Protestant Christian church in the western city of İzmir named Yeniden Diriliş (Resurrection), Brunson was detained in October and was recently described by US President Donald Trump as a “fine gentleman.”
Brunson denied terrorism and spying charges in a Turkish court on Monday and called them “shameful and disgusting.” “I am helping Syrian refugees, they say that I am aiding the PKK. I am setting up a church, they say I got help from Gülen’s network,” Brunson said, referring to the testimonies of anonymous witnesses in court.
“My service that I have spent my life on, has now turned upside down. I was never ashamed to be a server of Jesus, but these claims are shameful and disgusting,” Brunson told the court in the Aegean town of Aliağa.
Prosecutors accuse Brunson of activities on behalf of the PKK as well as the Gülen movement. Brunson, who has lived and worked in Turkey for over two decades, is also accused of espionage for political or military purposes.
“I do not accept the charges. I would like to say openly and clearly that the PKK is a terrorist organization … I do not support any Kurdish group that carries on terrorist activities against Turkey. If we were sympathizers of the PKK those Turks would not stay in our church,” Brunson said.
Brunson’s lawyer, İsmail Cem Halavurt, said they will insist on demanding his release, stressing that he is mentally depressed.
However, the panel of judges overseeing the trial of jailed pastor Brunson has decided to reject his demand to be released during the trial. At the end of the hearing on Monday, the court decided to keep Brunson in jail up until the next hearing on July 18.
US Embassy Charge d’affaires Philip Kosnett as well as Sandra Jolley, vice chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, were present at the Monday hearing.
Outside the court on Monday, Jolley called for the clergyman’s release. “Every day that Andrew Brunson spends here in prison is another day that the standing of the Turkish government diminishes in the eyes of not just the US but the entire world,” she told reporters.
The case has further inflamed tensions between Turkey and the United States. Trump said the pastor was on trial and being prosecuted for “no reason,” in a tweet after the Turkish court ruled to keep him in jail.
“They call him a Spy, but I am more a Spy than he is. Hopefully he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!” Trump said.
The State Department said it had seen “no credible evidence” that Brunson was guilty of a crime.
Top US officials have raised the pastor’s case in meetings with Turkish authorities and have called for Brunson’s release.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who will soon meet with US counterpart, Mike Pompeo, in Washington, claimed that Brunson’s case was a legal one. “They say ’the government should release him.’ Is it up to me? This is a decision the judiciary will make,” Çavuşoğlu told broadcaster CNN Türk in an interview on Sunday.