THE case of an American pastor accused in Turkey of terrorism and espionage has been postponed until July, and he has been sent back to prison.
Andrew Brunson, the 50-year-old pastor from North Carolina, could spend up to 35 years in prison on charges of “committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member”, and “espionage”.
Mr Brunson was arrested after the coup attempt, in 2016, for his alleged links to the illegal Kurdistan Workers’ Party and to the United States-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen, who, Turkey believes, was behind the failed coup. Mr Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for 22 years, and leads a small church, has denied all the charges against him. He has been in detention since October 2016.
At the second hearing, on Monday, an anonymous witness said that Mr Brunson helped Kurdish militants and sought to create a Christian Kurdish state, the country’s state-run news agency reported.
Mr Brunson denied the charges, saying that he never permitted “politics to enter the church”, the Anadolu Agency reported.
The vice-chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, Sandra Jolley, attended the hearing in Aliaga, and said afterwards that she was “seriously concerned”. She continued: “Eleven hours of proceedings were dominated by wild conspiracies, tortured logic, and secret witnesses, but no real evidence to speak of. Upon these rests a man’s life.
“The truth is that this case is part of a larger decline in personal freedoms — including religious freedom and human rights — that we are witnessing in Turkey in recent years. We are looking to the Turkish judiciary to uphold Pastor Brunson’s innocence.”
The case has heightened tensions between Turkey and the United States. President Trump posted on Twitter in Mr Brunson’s defence last month: “Pastor Andrew Brunson, a fine gentleman and Christian leader in the United States, is on trial and being persecuted in Turkey for no reason.”
He added: “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!”
The US administration later warned Turkey that it was considering punitive “consequences” if the country did not throw out the charges or acquit Mr Brunson.
Last year, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that Turkey could free Mr Brunson if Washington handed over Mr Gülen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, but the offer was dismissed by the US.