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Ankara: US pastor remains in jail on terrorism charges, hearing postponed to July

Ankara (AsiaNews / Agencies) – The Turkish judiciary has postponed the trial of the American pastor Andrew Craig Brunson with the obligation to stay in prison on 18 July. For almost 600 days the Christian missionary has been held on charges of espionage, collaboration with the Kurdish rebels of the PKK and links with the network of the Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, considered the mastermind of the (failed) coup in July 2016.

He faces up to 35 years in prison, which corresponds to life imprisonment in Turkey.

At the hearing held yesterday, the judge ordered the postponement of the proceedings. During the hearing, an anonymous witness accused the US pastor of espionage and crimes related to terrorism. He also allegedly “helped Kurdish terrorists “with an aim to creating a “Kurdish Christian state”.

In the course of the hearing, Brunson rejected the accusations calling them “shameful and disgusting”, insisting that he never allowed “politics enter the church”. He stated that his commitment consisted above all “in helping Syrian refugees” and never cooperated with elements of the PKK (Workers’ Party of Kurdistan, Marxist-inspired and with a strong nationalist character, considered by some States to be an terrorist organization).

Among other initiatives, the Protestant pastor in Turkey has long been working to build a church. In this regard, he denies having received “support or funding” from the Gülen network.

The story of the 50-year-old pastor from Black Mountain, North Carolina, head of the Resurrection Church (Dirilis) in Izmir and for over 20 years in the country, is a thorny issue that threatens to exacerbate relations between Ankara and Washington. The US government has repeatedly called for Brunson’s release, speaking of “unjustified detention”. In response, the Turkish executive affirms that the matter is being managed by courts and magistrates and that they cannot interfere.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who is expected to meet with US head of diplomacy Mike Pompeo next week in Washington, stresses that any decision on the matter is up to the judges alone. “His release – he said – is not in my power”.

At the end of the hearing, Brunson said he only wanted to “go home”. However, the judge extended the terms of pre-trial detention in prison and postponed the trial to July 18.

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