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Ambassador attends trial of jailed US pastor in Turkey

North America

Ambassador attends trial of jailed US pastor in Turkey

For 18 months Pastor Andrew Brunson has been held at a high-security prison Izmir after being arrested following the failed coup against the Turkish president in 2016

Sam Brownback, Ambassador at large for international religious freedom. Photo credit: Twitter

 The ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom,  Sam Brownback was in court recently to witness the trial of a US pastor Andrew Brunson who is on trial in Turkey facing up to 35 years in jail after being accused of aiding a terrorist group held responsible for the failed 2016 coup against President Tayyip Erdogan.

Brunson’s lawyer said the charges are “totally unfounded” and the preacher was really being held because of his Christian faith.

Washington has called for Brunson’s release and President Donald Trump has personally appealed to Erdogan on Brunson’s behalf. However, the requests have been ignored and Erdogan suggested last year his fate could be linked to that of Pennsylvania-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose extradition Ankara has repeatedly sought to face charges over the coup attempt in July 2016.

“The (pastor) we have is on trial. Yours is not – he is living in Pennsylvania… You can give him right away,” Erdogan said in September. Gulen has denied any link to the coup attempt in which more than 240 people were killed.

A copy of Brunson’s indictment seen by Reuters accuses him of working both with Gulen’s network and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has fought an insurgency in southeast Turkey and is designated a terrorist group by the United States and European Union. Prosecutors are demanding a 20-year prison term for espionage and another 15 years for committing crimes on behalf of terror organisations.

Halavurt said he believed Brunson would ultimately be acquitted and there was no reason for his continued detention during trial. “Our prior expectation from the hearing is ending the arrest,’ he said. “We want Brunson to be freed immediately.”

The trial is ongoing.