April 16 (UPI) — A U.S. pastor began trial in Turkey Monday on charges he aided in the military coup attempt nearly two years ago.
Andrew Brunson, of Black Mountain, N.C., has spent 23 years living in Turkey with his wife, daughter and two sons. He was arrested in October 2016 while running the Resurrection Church in the western city of Izmir.
The 50-year-old Evangelical pastor is accused of helping the group led by Fethullah Gulen — an exiled Muslim preacher living in the United States, who Turkish officials say orchestrated the failed July 2016 coup.
Jacqueline Furnari, Brunson’s daughter, told NBC News her father has been pulled into a “political game between Turkey and the U.S.”
Furnari said she isn’t sure why her father was arrested.
“He’s done nothing wrong, he’s a peaceful loving man, he’s a pastor,” she said. “These charges are absolutely absurd.”
Brunson is also accused of having ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party — a militant group that both Turkey and the United States consider a terrorist organization — and revealing state secrets.
The indictment says the charges are based on evidence obtained from Brunson’s phone, as well as information from witnesses.
The United States has repeatedly demanded Brunson’s release. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Brunson’s wife during a trip to Turkey to visit President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan has said he will release Brunson if U.S. officials extradite Gulen to Turkey.
More than 50,000 people were arrested following the failed coup, 100,000 state employees were fired and multiple Turkish newspapers and TV stations ceased operating.
If convicted, Brunson could face as many as 35 years in a Turkish prison.