Turkish trial resumes of US pastor on terror-related charges
May 07 2018 11:46 AM
Turkish soldiers stand guard at the entrance of the Aliaga court and prison complex, during the tria
Turkish soldiers stand guard at the entrance of the Aliaga court and prison complex, during the trial of US pastor Andrew Brunson, held on charges of aiding terror groups, in Aliaga, north of Izmir. AFP

AFP/Aliaga

The Turkish trial resumed on Monday of US pastor Andrew Brunson who faces up to 35 years in jail on terror and spy charges in a case condemned by the United States. 

Brunson, leader of a small Protestant Christian church in the western city of Izmir named "Yeniden Dirilis" (Resurrection) and described by US President Donald Trump as a "fine gentleman", was detained in October 2016.
Turkish prosecutors accuse him of activities on behalf of the group led by US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen -- who Ankara says is behind a failed 2016 coup -- and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
Both the Gulen movement and the PKK are banned by Turkey as terror groups.
Brunson, who has lived and worked in Turkey for over two decades, is also accused of espionage for political or military purposes.
He rejected all the accusations directed against him during the first hearing in the town of Aliaga, north of Izmir last month, and from time to time broke down in tears.
"I haven't done anything against Turkey. On the contrary I love Turkey. I have been praying for Turkey for 25 years," he told the judge. 
US embassy charge d'affaires Philip Kosnett as well as Sandra Jolley, vice chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, were present at Monday's hearing.
The case has further inflamed tensions between Turkey and the United States. Trump said the pastor was on trial and being prosecuted for "no reason" -- in a strong tweet after the Turkish court ruled to keep him in jail. 
"They call him a Spy, but I am more a Spy than he is. Hopefully he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!" Trump said.
The State Department then said it had seen "no credible evidence" that Brunson was guilty of a crime.
Top US officials have raised the pastor's case in meetings with Turkish authorities and have called for Brunson's release.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who will soon meet with US counterpart Mike Pompeo in Washington, said Brunson's case was a legal one.
"They say 'the government should release him'. Is it up to me?" Cavusoglu told the private CNN Turk broadcaster in an interview on Sunday.
"This is a decision the judiciary will make," he said. 
Turkish-US relations are already strained over American backing for a Kurdish militia in Syria which Turkey says is linked to the PKK, as well as the jailing of two employees from American missions in Turkey.
In September, Erdogan suggested that Turkey could free Brunson if Washington handed over Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania -- an offer brushed off by Washington. 



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