Middle East and North Africa

Turkish trial of US pastor accused of terrorism postponed

Andrew and Norine Brunson. Credit: Facebook Page

The trial of an American pastor accused of terrorism and espionage in Turkey has been postponed until July. He has been sent back to prison.

Andrew Brunson, the 50-year-old pastor from North Carolina, could spend up to 35 years in prison on charges of “committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member”, and “espionage”.

Brunson was arrested after the coup attempt, in 2016, for his alleged links to the illegal Kurdistan Workers’ Party and to the United States-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen, who, Turkey believes, was behind the failed coup. Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for 22 years, and leads a small church, has denied all the charges against him. He has been in detention since October 2016.

At the second hearing, on Monday, an anonymous witness said that Brunson helped Kurdish militants and sought to create a Christian Kurdish state, the country’s state-run news agency reported.

Brunson denied the charges, saying that he never permitted “politics to enter the church”, according to reports.

The vice-chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, Sandra Jolley, attended the hearing in Aliaga, and said afterwards that she was “seriously concerned”. She continued: “Eleven hours of proceedings were dominated by wild conspiracies, tortured logic, and secret witnesses, but no real evidence to speak of. Upon these rests a man’s life.

The US administration later warned Turkey that it was considering punitive “consequences” if the country did not throw out the charges or acquit Brunson.

Last year, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that Turkey could free Brunson if Washington handed over Mr Gülen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, but the offer was dismissed by the US.