Published: Tue, April 17, 2018
Global News | By Stacy Ballard

North Carolina Pastor Goes On Trial In Turkey, Further Straining Relations

North Carolina Pastor Goes On Trial In Turkey, Further Straining Relations

An American pastor is going on trial in Turkey accused of ties to terror groups and spying, in a case that has strained ties between Turkey and the United States. I love Turkey. I've been praying for Turkey for 25 years.

Andrew Brunson, imprisoned in Turkey since a 2016 coup attempt, faces a maximum of 35 years in prison for pursuing goals of two of Ankara's sworn enemies, state-run Anadolu news agency reported: us -based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the government accuses of masterminding the botched putsch, and the autonomy-seeking Kurdish PKK group, branded a terrorist organization by the USA, the European Union and Turkey.

Relations are already tense over American backing for a Kurdish militia in Syria despised by Ankara and the jailing of two employees at American missions in Turkey. Gölge was recently sentenced to 7.5 years in prison.

North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis and Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador-at-large for religious freedoms, observed the trial, which the court later adjourned until May 7.

Mr. Brunson denied any connection to Mr. Gulen and said he had returned from vacation in the United States after the coup when others were fleeing the country - proof, he said, that he had no connection to the movement.

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Daniel Hoffman, Executive Director of Middle East Concern, a Christian freedom group who are support Andrew and are in contact with him told Premier why they believe he is innocent: "He's never been involved in any armed or even political activities and also when the indictment was finally released...there wasn't really anything that corroborates any of the charges against him".

The lawyer said he is opposed to the "politicization" of Brunson's case and says his client wants to remain in Turkey if he's acquitted. "Give him to us, and we will try (Brunson) and give him back", Erdogan said then.

The ACLJ called the decision "an escalation" and said it was "devastating" to Brunson and his family, some of whom were in court Monday - including his wife, Norine, who was initially imprisoned with him.

"I don't accept any of the allegations or accusations", the state-run Anadolu Agency quoted Brunson as telling the court in the town of Aliaga, some 60 kilometers (38 miles) north of the Aegean coastal city of Izmir.

In his statement to the court, Brunson rejected the accusations of links to Gulen's group, saying: "That would be an insult to my religion". Washington has demanded his release.

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Two supporters of Erdogan jailed in the same case are due to be freed in the next weeks after a plea deal. I did not join an Islamic movement.

Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, has denied involvement in the coup. Brunson also denied that he spoke in favor of Kurdish independence or aided the PKK.

"Please pray that. the cord around Andrew would be loosened/untied", Norine wrote on a Facebook page devoted to her husband's case ahead of the trial.

Brunson reacted with emotion, telling his wife Norine in English: 'I am going insane. The Turkish Association of Protestant Churches said in a report that 2017 was marked by continued hate crimes and physical attacks.

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