Andrew Brunson, a Protestant pastor who has led a mission and church in western Turkey for more than two decades, appeared in Turkish court on Monday facing terror-related charges.
Brunson faces as many as 35 years in prison if convicted of “committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member” and “espionage.” Despite being a Christian community leader, the Turkish government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrested Brunson in December 2016 on accusations that he supported Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric living in Pennsylvania, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Marxist, U.S.-designated terrorist group. Prosecutors specifically claim Brunson was trying to convert Kurdish people, who are typically Sunni Muslims, to Christianity, claiming the faith could help them establish a sovereign Kurdistan.
Ankara blames Gulen for organizing the failed coup against Erdogan in 2016, a claim Gulen has vehemently denied.
The Turkish Hurriyet Daily News reported that the U.S. State Department and Congress had a presence in the courtroom.
“In an indication of the importance of the case for Washington, also in court were Sam Brownback, the U.S. ambassador at large for religious freedoms (sic), and Sen. Thom Tillis,” the Daily News reported.
Tillis, a Republican, represents North Carolina, Brunson’s home state.
“American officials have repeatedly requested that Brunson be released, with even President Donald Trump asking that Turkey ‘expeditiously’ return the pastor,” the AP reported. “But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has demanded that the U.S. first return cleric Fethullah Gulen.”
As Breitbart reported in July of last year:
The administration of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has long portrayed former imam Fethullah Gulen as the sinister mastermind who orchestrated last year’s failed coup attempt from his home in Pennsylvania.
Turkey demanded Gulen’s extradition from both the Obama and Trump administrations and denounced their failure to hand him over as outrageous.
In September, Erdogan admitted that his government had taken Brunson hostage as a ploy to get the United States to extradite Gulen.
“We have given you all the documents necessary [for the extradition of Gülen]. But they say, ‘give us the pastor.’ You have another pastor in your hands. Give us that pastor and we will do what we can in the judiciary to give you this one,” Erdoğan said.
“I want the whole truth to be revealed,” Brunson, who has been jailed in Turkey for a year and a half, told the court on Monday. “I reject all the accusations in the indictment. I haven’t been involved in any illegal activity.”
“I haven’t done anything against Turkey,” Brunson said. “On the contrary, I love Turkey.”
“I have been praying for Turkey for 25 years,” Brunson said.
Breitbart News spoke with Brunson’s sister last year about how difficult her brother’s plight has been on his family.
“It’s been very hard on us as his family,” Beth Herman told Breitbart News. “We love him and we want him to be back with his family.”
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