Turkish court rejects US Pastor Brunson’s appeal against house arrest, travel ban

American Pastor Andrew Brunson.

A Turkish high criminal court on Tuesday rejected an appeal filed by the lawyer of American pastor Andrew Brunson, who was transferred from pretrial detention to house arrest last week, demanding the pastor be fully freed.

The İzmir 2nd High Criminal Court on July 25 ruled to move Brunson from pretrial detention, in which he had been held since October 2016, to house arrest in İzmir but barred him from leaving the premises or the country.

Brunson’s lawyer said in his petition that “the pastor cannot totally make use of his freedom and return to his daily life,” underlining that he cannot exercise his freedom of belief nor carry out his religious duties.

However, the İzmir 2nd High Criminal Court rejected the lawyer’s appeal and ruled for the continuation of Brunson’s house arrest and travel ban.

The next hearing in his trial is not scheduled until Oct. 12, but his lawyer Ismail Cem Halavurt said he would keep pressing for Brunson’s release. “We are going to request his house arrest be lifted every month,” he told Reuters.

According to a report by Reuters, a US State Department official was unable to confirm any planned meeting between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu, but a lawyer following Brunson’s case said high-level contacts were ongoing.

Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, which represents Brunson’s family, said the ACLJ was not surprised that the appeal was denied. “Ongoing diplomatic efforts are taking place at the highest level,” Sekulow said.

Meanwhile, İbrahim Kalın, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s spokesman, told reporters at the presidential complex on Tuesday that “the US using threatening language, using an ongoing legal issue as an excuse is unacceptable.”

“Everyone has to respect the ongoing legal procedure on the Pastor Brunson issue,” Kalın said.

In a statement Turkey’s National Security Council (MGK) chaired by President Erdoğan also said on Monday that the threatening language that the US used towards Turkey shows disrespect for relations between two countries and is “unacceptable.”

The MGK also condemned the recent US stance on defense industry projects in which “Turkey fulfills every kind of responsibility,” saying this stance would irreparably harm the strategic partnership between the two countries.

Turkish businesspeople disapprove of the remarks of US President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, claimed Erol Bilecik, chair of the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association (TUSIAD), while visiting Parliament Speaker Binali Yıldırım.

“We can never approve of the remarks of [US Vice President] Pence and [US President] Trump, especially over social media,” Bilecik told reporters. He added that the remarks were “not part of a solution but the issue.” Bilecik called on the two countries to make statements “with high diplomacy and aim for a solution.”

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Öztürk Yılmaz has termed Trump’s threats to impose sanctions on Turkey as a “sloppy stance.” Speaking to journalists at parliament on Tuesday, Yılmaz said Trump cannot threaten Turkey. “As sons of a country that has waged a war of independence, we will raze your sloppy stance to the ground,” Yılmaz said and added that Turkey was never afraid of threats from any country.

The İzmir court’s ruling has deepened a diplomatic crisis between Washington and Ankara, with both President Trump and Vice President Pence threatening Turkey with “large sanctions” until Brunson is fully released.

President Erdoğan on Sunday defied Washington’s threat, saying Turkey would not retreat in the face of pressure and comparing the situation to US-imposed sanctions on Iran.

Hours after Erdoğan’s statement Pence reiterated a threat to Ankara that Washington would impose sanctions on Turkey if Brunson is not freed.

The court’s most recent decision came days after six US senators introduced bipartisan legislation to restrict loans from international financial institutions to Turkey “until the Turkish government ends the unjust detention of US citizens.”

Erdoğan in September had called on Washington to swap Brunson for Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish Muslim cleric living in self-imposed exile in the US who Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government accuse of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016.

Prosecutors accuse Brunson of activities on behalf of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as well as the group inspired by Gülen. The Gülen movement strongly denies any involvement in the abortive putsch.

Brunson, a North Carolina native, has been in custody since October 2016 after he and his wife were detained on immigration violation charges. At the time, the Brunsons were running a small Christian church in İzmir. They had lived in Turkey for 23 years. (SCF with turkishminute.com)

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