US priest faces prison term for FETÖ membership
PROSECUTORS in the city of İzmir are asking up to 35 years for American pastor Andrew Craig Brunson, who was arrested on charges of membership of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) which orchestrated the July 15, 2016 coup attempt in Turkey.
turkish prosecutors are asking for up to 35 years for Andrew Craig Brunson, an American priest who Washington has fervently asked to be released, on charges of membership in a terrorist group that was implicated in the 2016 coup attempt.
Prosecutors in the western city of İzmir, where Andrew Craig Brunson served as a pastor, have asked a court to hand down 15 years in prison for “committing a crime on behalf of a terrorist group” and another 20 years for “obtaining confidential documents for political and military espionage”
In an indictment prosecutors presented to the court, Brunson is accused of links to Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), which is blamed for carrying out deadly coup attempt in July 15, 2016, through its infiltrators in the military. A hearing will be set for Brunson if the court accepts the indictment.
The case of Brunson, who was a pastor at the Diriliş Protestant church in İzmir, is a thorny issue between Ankara and Washington. Washington has repeatedly called for release of Brunson, claiming he was “unjustly detained.”
Departing U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was the last high-ranking U.S. official to demand his release during a visit to Turkey last month, disregarding judiciary independence. The Turkish government has repeatedly told Washington that Brunson’s case is being handled by the courts and the government can’t intervene.
FETÖ, led by Pennsylvania resident Fetullah Gülen, is implicated in a string of criminal inquiries, the most significant of which is trials related to the coup attempt that killed 249 people.
The United States did not respond positively to Turkey’s requests to extradite or arrest Gülen to prevent his escape to another country.
Brunson was arrested after a secret witness in a criminal probe into FETÖ testified against him while authorities were preparing to deport Brunson and his wife Norine Lyn for “involvement in actions threatening national security.”
The witness has detailed the pastor’s links to the terrorist group and his frequent contacts with Bekir Baz, a fugitive point man for FETÖ in the Aegean region where İzmir is located.
The pastor and his wife – who has been released earlier – were members of FETÖ which funded their church, the witness said.
Even before he was questioned by prosecutors about his links to FETÖ, Brunson was accused of espionage and attempting to overthrow the constitutional order (a coup charge). Brunson had denied those initial allegations.
Prosecutors also linked Brunson to the PKK, another terrorist group whose members were allegedly given shelter at the Diriliş church.
FETÖ, which posed as a charity with religious undertones for decades before using its immense clout to seize power through infiltra- tors in the military, is known for its close ties with churches.
Under its “interfaith project”, Gülenists reached out to Protestant and Catholic churches though it is the first time that a pastor is being implicated in a FETÖ case.
The terrorist group’s ties to the United States and its intelligence service are no secret, according to prosecutors in other cases against FETÖ.
While media reports claim that Brunson is “a U.S. agent” is not confirmed, a separate indictment by prosecutors in Ankara says FETÖ used its sprawling international network of schools to provide a cover for CIA operatives.
FETÖ’s coup attempt in 2016 was quelled thanks to a strong public resistance. Thousands of people, from military officers who opened fire on unarmed crowds rallying against the coup to “civilian” point men of the terrorist group, were arrested or detained under a state of emergency.
Trials of hundreds involved in the putsch attempt are still underway. In 104 trials since 2016, 797 defendants involved in the insurrection bid were handed down life sentences.
Some 586 defendants, including generals, were sentenced to life. A main trial of those accused of orchestrating the coup plot and a trial of putschists who took over the main headquarters of the army, are still underway.
Bekir Baz, one of the group’s point man who had ties to Brunson, is believed to be in the United States after he fled Turkey in 2015 one year before the coup attempt. He managed to run away at a time of heightened crackdowns against the terrorist group.
Baz was allegedly a coordinator of the group’s activities in İzmir where Gülen made himself a name as a charismatic preacher in 1970s. He reportedly blackmailed and threatened local officials to work for the group’s interests, according to criminal investigations.