US pas­tor faces ter­ror charges in fraught trial in Turkey

The Columbus Dispatch - - Front Page - By Zeynep Bil­gin­soy and Mehmet Guzel

IZMIR, Turkey — An Amer­i­can pas­tor im­pris­oned in Turkey is go­ing on trial for al­leged ter­ror ties and spy­ing in a case that has in­creased ten­sions be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Ankara.

Andrew Craig Brun­son, a 50-year-old evan­gel­i­cal pas­tor from North Carolina, is fac­ing up to 35 years in prison on charges of “com­mit­ting crimes on be­half of ter­ror groups with­out be­ing a mem­ber” and “es­pi­onage.” The trial be­gins Mon­day in west­ern Izmir prov­ince.

Brun­son was ar­rested in De­cem­ber 2016 for al­leged links to both an out­lawed Kur­dish in­sur­gent group and the Brun­son net­work of the U.S.based Mus­lim cleric who Turkey blames for a mas­ter­mind­ing a failed mil­i­tary coup that year. The cleric, Fethul­lah Gulen, de­nies the claim.

Brun­son, who has lived in Turkey for 23 years, has de­nied all al­le­ga­tions, say­ing that he solely worked as a pas­tor.

The Turk­ish gov­ern­ment has clearly linked Brun­son’s case with its de­ter­mi­na­tion to force the U.S. to ex­tra­dite Gulen — and some see the pas­tor as a diplo­matic pawn.

The Amer­i­can Cen­ter for Law and Jus­tice, a con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian group in the U.S., has called Brun­son a “hostage of the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment.” A pe­ti­tion has gar­nered more than half a mil­lion sig­na­tures, claim­ing that the case was putting Chris­tian­ity on trial.

Amer­i­can of­fi­cials have re­peat­edly re­quested that Brun­son be re­leased — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump him­self asked Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan to have his gov­ern­ment “ex­pe­di­tiously” re­turn the pas­tor to the U.S.

But Er­do­gan fired back at Wash­ing­ton, de­mand­ing that the U.S. first re­turn Gulen.

Turkey has sub­mit­ted an ex­tra­di­tion re­quest to the U.S. for Gulen, who lives in Penn­syl­va­nia, but so far it not been granted. That has cre­ated fes­ter­ing frus­tra­tion in the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment, which has hunted down tens of thou­sands of al­leged Gulen sup­port­ers and ei­ther im­pris­oned them or fired them from gov­ern­ment jobs.

Brun­son has served as the pas­tor of Izmir Res­ur­rec­tion Church with a small Protes­tant con­gre­ga­tion. He was first de­tained in Oc­to­ber 2016 with his wife, Norine Brun­son, who was later re­leased.

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