TURKEY – US pastor denied release in latest trial hearing in Turkey
The Tribune | 07-18-18
ANKARA, Turkey — A Turkish court on Wednesday again denied a request for the release from custody of an American pastor based in Turkey who is on trial on charges of aiding terror groups and engaging espionage.
Andrew Craig Brunson, a 50-year-old evangelical pastor from Black Mountain, North Carolina, was arrested in the aftermath of a 2016 coup attempt for alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, as well as a network led by U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey blames for the unrest.
Brunson, who faces up to 35 years in prison for “committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member” and “espionage,” strongly denies the charges. Gulen has denied involvement in the coup attempt.
At the end of the third hearing, the court inside a prison complex in the town of Aliaga in western Turkey rejected Brunson’s lawyer’s request that he be freed pending the outcome of the trial. The case was adjourned until Oct. 12.
Brunson’s case has added to already strained Turkish-US relations, with some U.S. politicians calling for sanctions against Turkey if Brunson is not released.
U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted in Brunson’s defense earlier in the year, saying: “They call him a Spy, but I am more a Spy than he is.” Brunson’s case was among issues Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed by telephone earlier this week.
Speaking to reporters at the end of the hearing, the United States’ top diplomat in Turkey expressed disappointment.
“I have read the indictment. I have attended three hearings. I don’t believe there is any indication that Pastor Brunson is guilty of any sort of criminal or terrorist activity,” said Philip Kosnett, the U.S. Embassy Charge d’Affaires. “Our government remains deeply concerned about his status.”