ALIAGA, Turkey — An American pastor on Monday denied accusations that he aided terror teams or spied in opposition to Turkey, talking initially of his trial in a case that has. Andrew Craig Brunson, a 50-year-old evangelical pastor from North Carolina, faces as much as on prices of “committing crimes on behalf of terror teams with out being a member” and “espionage.”
Brunson was arrested within the aftermath of a 2016 coup try for alleged hyperlinks to the outlawed Kurdistan Staff’ Social gathering, or PKK, in addition to a community led by U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who’s blamed by Turkey for the coup try.
He served as pastor of Izmir Resurrection Church, a small Protestant congregation, and has lived in Turkey for 23 years. Brunson denies any wrongdoing.
“I do not settle for any of the allegations or accusations,” the state-run Anadolu Company quoted Brunson as telling the court docket within the city of Aliaga, some 60 kilometers (38 miles) north of the Aegean coastal metropolis of Izmir.
“I didn’t have interaction in any criminal activity. I had no relations with anybody engaged in such exercise,” Brunson stated. “I’m a Christian pastor. I didn’t be a part of an Islamic motion. Their goals and mine are completely different.”
The company stated the pastor delivered his protection assertion in Turkish.
The pastor additionally informed the court docket he would by no means work in opposition to Turkey.
“Quite the opposite, I like Turkey. I’ve been praying for Turkey for 25 years,” the Cumhuriyet newspaper quoted Brunson as saying.
Cumhuriyet stated the pastor wept in court docket throughout a day session, saying being alone in a cell had affected his psychological state.
North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis and Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador-at-large for spiritual freedoms, noticed the trial, which the court docket later adjourned till Could 7.
“The Administration is deeply involved about this case,” Brownback informed reporters exterior the courthouse. “We utterly consider (that) Andrew Brunson is harmless. We’re hopeful (that) the judicial system will discover that.”
He added: “You will proceed to see very high-level U.S. authorities curiosity on this till he’s launched.”
In america, Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma warned of doable congressional motion in opposition to Turkey, if Brunson will not be launched.
“It’s unconscionable that Turkey, a NATO ally, has unjustly held an American pastor in jail since October 2016,” Lankford stated.
Prosecutors are searching for a 15-year jail sentence for crimes Brunson is charged with committing within the identify of Gulen’s group and the PKK. They need the pastor to serve one other 20 years, if he is also discovered responsible of acquiring state secrets and techniques for political and army spying functions utilizing his spiritual work as cowl.
The indictment in opposition to him — based mostly on the testimony of witnesses, together with three secret ones, and digital proof — claims the pastor labored to transform Kurds to Christianity to sow discord.
U.S. officers have repeatedly known as for Brunson’s launch, and President Donald Trump has requested Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to have his authorities “expeditiously” return the pastor to the U.S.
Erdogan fired again at Washington, demanding that the U.S. return Gulen to Turkey.
“Give him (Gulen) to us, and we are going to attempt (Brunson) and return him,” Erdogan stated final yr.
Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, has denied involvement within the coup.
Brunson’s lawyer, Ismail Cem Halavurt, informed The Related Press he anticipated the pastor’s acquittal, arguing Sunday that the “weak” indictment lacked enough proof to make the case maintain up in court docket.