August 15, 2018
Middle East

US pastor to remain in jail, Turkish court rules

Turkish soldier in front of courthouse complex in Izmir where Andrew Brunson had a hearing, 18 July (Reuters)

A Turkish court decided on Wednesday to keep an American pastor in jail, dashing hopes that he could be released during his trial on terrorism and spying charges, in a case that has deepened a rift with NATO ally Washington.

Andrew Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, was indicted on charges of helping the group that Ankara blames for a failed 2016 coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as well as supporting outlawed PKK Kurdish militants.

Brunson, who denies the charges, faces up to 35 years in jail if found guilty.

"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."

I issued a joint statement with @SenatorShaheen @SenatorLankford @LindseyGrahamSC after a Turkish court in Izmir ordered American citizen Andrew Brunson to remain imprisoned until his trial resumes on October 12. #FreePastorBrunson https://t.co/hocKpXd6qV

— Senator Thom Tillis (@SenThomTillis) July 18, 2018

Brunson's defence lawyer had said that his client may be released on Wednesday after the conclusion of evidence collection.

"We have been saying that he must be released under the law since day one," Ismail Cem Halavurt, the lawyer, said on Tuesday.

President Donald Trump has called for his release and the US Senate passed a bill last month including a measure that prohibits Turkey from buying F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets because of Brunson's imprisonment and Turkey's purchase of Russia's S-400 air defence system.

The US envoy to Turkey said he was "disappointed" by the ruling of the court in the Aegean province of Izmir, where Brunson had been living.

"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," Charge d'Affaires Philip Kosnett told reporters outside the courtroom.

Erdogan has previously linked Brunson's fate to that of Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Muslim cleric whom Turkey accuses of masterminding the failed coup. Gulen denies any involvement in the coup, in which at least 250 people were killed.

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The spokesman of Turkey's ruling AK Party, Mahir Unal, said that just as Washington had responded repeatedly to Ankara's requests for Gulen's extradition by saying it was a matter for the US courts, so Brunson's fate was a judicial matter.

In a statement late on Wednesday, four US Senators called for the immediate release of Brunson, warning of legislative reprisals against Ankara.

"We encourage the administration to use all the tools at their disposal to ensure the release of these innocent people before Congress is forced to press for even stricter legislative measures that will be difficult to unwind," said Senators Thom Tillis, Jeanne Shaheen, James Lankford, and Lindsey Graham.

Original Article

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