US pas­tor de­nies Tur­key coup links

Case strains US-Tur­key ties; Pas­tor in jail for re­li­gious be­liefs

Kuwait Times - - International -

ALIAGA: A US pas­tor de­nied al­le­ga­tions of links to a group ac­cused of or­ches­trat­ing a failed mil­i­tary coup in Tur­key as he went on trial yes­ter­day in a case that has com­pounded strains in US-Turk­ish re­la­tions. 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 holds re­spon­si­ble for the failed 2016 coup against Pres­i­dent Tayyip Er­do­gan. He faces up to 35 years in prison. “I’ve never done some­thing against Tur­key. I love Tur­key. I’ve been pray­ing for Tur­key for 25 years. I want truth to come out,” Brun­son told the court in the west­ern Turk­ish town of Aliaga, north of the Aegean city of Izmir.

Brun­son has been the pas­tor of Izmir Res­ur­rec­tion Church, serv­ing a small Protes­tant con­gre­ga­tion in Tur­key’s third largest city. “I do not ac­cept the charges men­tioned in the in­dict­ment. I was never in­volved in any il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties,” said Brun­son, wear­ing a white shirt and black suit and mak­ing his de­fense in Turk­ish. His wife was in the court­room, as were North Carolina Se­na­tor Thom Til­lis and the US en­voy for re­li­gious free­dom, Sam Brown­back. Brun­son’s trial is one of sev­eral le­gal cases roil­ing US-Turk­ish re­la­tions. The two coun­tries are also at odds over US sup­port for a Kur­dish mili­tia in north­ern Syria that Tur­key con­sid­ers a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Wash­ing­ton has called for Brun­son’s re­lease while Er­do­gan sug­gested last year his fate could be linked to that of US-based Mus­lim cleric Fethul­lah Gulen, whose ex­tra­di­tion Ankara has re­peat­edly sought to face charges over the coup at­tempt. Gulen de­nies any as­so­ci­a­tion with the coup bid. Tens of thou­sands of Turks have been ar­rested or lost their jobs over al­leged con­nec­tions with the coup bid. “The United States cares deeply about our re­la­tion­ship with Tur­key,” Brown­back told re­porters dur­ing a re­cess at the trial “That re­la­tion­ship is go­ing to have dif­fi­culty mov­ing for­ward as long as An­drew Brun­son is in­car­cer­ated.”

North Carolina pas­tor faces up to 35 years in jail

Re­li­gious be­liefs Brun­son’s lawyer said the pas­tor, de­tained 18 months ago, was in cus­tody be­cause of his re­li­gious be­liefs. Tur­key is a ma­jor­ity Mus­lim coun­try though con­sti­tu­tion­ally sec­u­lar. “There is ev­i­dence that shows Brun­son was ar­rested due to his faith,” Is­mail Cem Halavurt told Reuters on the eve of the trial, say­ing Brun­son’s re­li­gious role had been “clas­si­fied as aid­ing ter­ror or­ga­ni­za­tions”. The Izmir pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice said that suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence had been ob­tained to charge Brun­son with aid­ing armed ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions and ob­tain­ing con­fi­den­tial gov­ern­ment in­for­ma­tion for po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary es­pi­onage.

A copy of Brun­son’s in­dict­ment seen by Reuters ac­cuses him of work­ing both with Gulen’s net­work and the Kur­dis­tan Work­ers Party (PKK) militant group which has waged an in­sur­gency in mainly Kur­dish south­east Tur­key and is des­ig­nated a ter­ror­ist group by the United States and Euro­pean Union. Halavurt said on Sun­day 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.”—Reuters

ALIAGA: Jailed US pas­tor An­drew Brun­son’s wife Norine Brun­son (left) ar­rives to the court­house for the trial of her hus­band, held on charges of aid­ing ter­ror groups, in Aliaga, north of Izmir yes­ter­day. —AFP

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