Clergy & Congregations International Law & Court News

US pastor denies terror links, spying in Turkish court

In this undated file photo, Andrew Brunson, an American pastor, stands in Izmir, Turkey. Media reports say Turkish prosecutors are seeking imprisonment for Brunson, who is accused of links to a U.S.-based Muslim cleric blamed for a failed coup attempt in Turkey. (DHA-Depo Photos via AP, File)

ALIAGA, Turkey (AP) — An American pastor on Monday (April 16) denied accusations that he aided terror groups or spied against Turkey, speaking at the beginning of his trial in a case that has strained ties between Turkey and the United States.

Andrew Craig Brunson, a 50-year-old evangelical pastor from North Carolina, faces up to 35 years in prison on charges of “committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member” and “espionage.”

He was arrested in the aftermath of a failed military coup in 2016, for alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, as well as a network led by U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is blamed by Turkey for the coup attempt.

Brunson, who served as the pastor of Izmir Resurrection Church with a small Protestant congregation and has lived in Turkey for 23 years, denies any wrongdoing.

“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.

“I did not engage in any illegal activity. I had no relations with anyone engaged in such activity,” Brunson said. “I am a Christian pastor. I did not join an Islamic movement. Their aims and mine are different.”

The agency said the pastor delivered his defense statement in Turkish.

North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis and Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, were observing the trial.

Prosecutors are seeking 15 years in prison against the pastor for alleged crimes committed in the name of Gulen’s group and the PKK, and a further 20 years for allegedly obtaining state secrets for political and military spying purposes using his religious work as cover.

The indictment — based on the testimonies of witnesses, including three secret ones, and digital evidence — claims the pastor worked to convert Kurds to Christianity to sow discord.

U.S. officials have repeatedly called for Brunson’s release, and President Trump has asked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to have his government “expeditiously” return the pastor to the U.S.

Erdogan fired back at Washington, demanding that the U.S. return Gulen to Turkey.

“Give him (Gulen) to us, and we will try (Brunson) and return him,” Erdogan said last year.

Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, has denied involvement in the coup.

Brunson’s lawyer, Ismail Cem Halavurt, told The Associated Press on Sunday he expects the pastor’s acquittal, arguing that the “weak” indictment lacks sufficient evidence to make the case hold up in court.

About the author

The Associated Press

1 Comment

Click here to post a comment

  • “The ‘weak’ indictment lacks sufficient evidence”?!

    According to Daily Sabah, April 15, 2018, “Terror-linked pastor a pawn in US game to press Turkey”:

    “In his first appearance before the court in Izmir’s Aliağa district, the pastor [Andrew Craig Brunson], in fluent Turkish, denied all charges against him, including his alleged contact with Bekir Baz, a senior member of FETÖ. Only a few days ago, reports said that local law enforcement officers following up on the case uncovered new evidence of contact between Brunson and the top FETÖ official in the region, Bekir Baz. While Brunson rejects claims that he ever met Baz, investigations into both individuals GSM signals showed that they were at the same place or at least very close to each other on 293 occasions. Baz currently remains a fugitive from the law. Brunson was arrested in 2016 after a secret witness in a criminal probe into FETÖ testified against him, while authorities were preparing to deport Brunson and his wife Norine Lyn for ‘involvement in actions threatening national security.’ The indictment underlined the pastor’s links to the terrorist group and his frequent contacts with Baz, a fugitive point man for FETÖ in the Aegean region, his aide Murat Safa and Amnesty Turkey Branch Executive Taner Kılıç, who is also being accused of aiding FETÖ. Baz, one of the group’s point men who had ties to Brunson, is believed to be in the U.S. after he fled Turkey in 2015 one year before the coup attempt. He managed to run away at a time of heightened crackdowns against the terrorist group. Baz was allegedly a coordinator of the group’s activities in Izmir where Gülen made himself a name as a charismatic preacher in the 1970s. He reportedly blackmailed and threatened local officials to work for the group’s interests, according to criminal investigations. … Asked about his message to an American soldier six days after the 2016 coup attempt blamed on military infiltrators by FETÖ, Brunson said the message was meant to be religious. The message, as translated into Turkish by the court, quotes Brunson saying, ‘Things will get worse, we will win in the end.’ The defendant said he was simply assessing the situation. ‘It is something spiritual. I was referring to the fact that God can create miracles when people are shaken and challenged. “Us” here is mankind in general,’ he said.”

ADVERTISEMENTs