Turkish court rules to keep American pastor Brunson behind bars

Fethullah Gülen (L) and Andrew Brunson.

A Turkish court on Wednesday ruled to keep in custody American pastor Andrew Brunson, who was jailed in October 2016 in Turkey on espionage and terror charges, setting the next hearing for Oct. 12, Cumhuriyet daily reported.

The trial of Brunson, who faces up to 35 years in prison on terror and espionage charges, resumed in Aliağa, north of İzmir, on Wednesday. “It is really hard to stay in jail and be separated from my wife and children,” Brunson, wearing a black suit and a white shirt, told the court in Turkish.

“There is no concrete evidence against me. The disciples of Jesus suffered in his name, now it is my turn. I am an innocent man on all these charges. I reject them. I know why I am here. I am here to suffer in Jesus’s name,” added Brunson.

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday urged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to release Pastor Brunson calling his continued detention a “total disgrace.”

“A total disgrace that Turkey will not release a respected U.S. Pastor, Andrew Brunson, from prison. He has been held hostage far too long. @RT_Erdogan should do something to free this wonderful Christian husband & father. He has done nothing wrong, and his family needs him!” Trump tweeted.

The US chargé d’affaires in Turkey said on Wednesday he was disappointed by the decision to keep the American pastor in jail while his trial on terrorism and spying charges continues, Reuters reported.

Philip Kosnett told reporters he was concerned about the status of the pastor and other Americans detained in Turkey and that he did not see any indication that Brunson was guilty of any sort of criminal activity.

“Our government is deeply concerned about his status and the status of other American citizens and Turkish local employees of the US diplomatic mission who have been detained under state of emergency rules,” Kosnett told reporters outside the courtroom. “We have great respect for both Turkey’s traditional role as a haven for people of faiths and Turkey’s legal traditions. We believe this case is out of step with these traditions,” he said.

Prosecutors accuse Brunson of activities on behalf of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as well as the group inspired by US-based preacher Fethullah Gülen, accused by the Turkish government of orchestrating a July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. The Gülen movement strongly denies any involvement in the abortive putsch.

Two members of the US Senate, Lindsey Graham and Jeanne Shaheen, paid a previously undisclosed visit to the Turkish capital on June 29 to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a direct appeal for Brunson’s release.

Top US officials have raised the pastor’s case in meetings with Turkish authorities and have called for Brunson’s release.

US President Donald Trump in a tweet in April had also urged the Turkish government to free Pastor Brunson, while 66 US senators signed a letter urging Erdoğan to free the American pastor.

During a police academy graduation ceremony in Ankara in September 2017 Erdoğan called on Washington to swap Brunson for Gülen: Some people are trying to divide us, crush us. But they will not be able to divide this nation and country, they will not be able to demolish it. They want a pastor [Andrew Brunson] from us, you have a pastor [Fethullah Gülen], too. Extradite him so that we can prosecute him.”

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.

Brunson’s wife, Norine, was soon released, but the pastor remained in custody and soon saw his charges upgraded to terrorism. Prosecutors have suggested in court hearings that Brunson is being held on suspicion of being a follower of Gülen.

The pro-Erdoğan Takvim daily accused Brunson of being behind the coup attempt, claiming that he would be the CIA chief if the coup attempt had been successful.

According to Takvim, Brunson is a “high-level CIA agent” and also a “high-level member of the Gülen movement.”

The arrest of the pastor has paralyzed CIA operations in Turkey, according to the article, and the US has been exerting all efforts to save him. (SCF with turkishminute.com)

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