U.S. pastor on trial in Turkey for terror links

U.S. pastor on trial in Turkey for terror links

Aliaga. The relationship between the United States and Turkey is likely to come under pressure as long as a US pastor remains in jail, a USA official responsible for global religious freedom said on Monday.

Brunson, who denies any wrongdoing, was arrested in the aftermath of a 2016 coup attempt for alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, as well as a network led by USA -based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is blamed by Turkey for the coup attempt.

In September, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that if the USA wants Brunson freed, it should extradite Gulen. "This is about what we believe is an innocent man who has been imprisoned for over a year and a half, and we are encouraging his release and back to a positive dialogue between the United States and Turkey". Brunson denies any wrongdoing.

Sam Brownback, US ambassador at large for religious freedom, speaks to journalists in front of Turkey's Aliaga court and prison complex, during the trial of US pastor Andrew Brunson, held on charges of aiding terror groups. I haven't been involved in any illegal activity'. Brunson explained that he was under medication due to solitary confinement in prison, Hurriyet said. I would not join an Islamic movement'. "Their aims and mine are different".

"This situation is no longer serious - it's critical", the American Center for Law and Justice that has been campaigning for the pastor's release said in a statement on its website. "What is being shown here is my service and it is called a cover", he told the court.

"I have never done anything against Turkey". I love Turkey. I've been praying for Turkey for 25 years.

Cumhuriyet said the pastor wept in court during an afternoon session, saying being alone in a cell had affected his psychological state.

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, and Senator Thom Tillis. The idea was brushed off by the United States. If convicted, he risks up to 35 years in jail. Three months later he was charged with membership of a terrorist organisation and political or military espionage and has been in detention since. President Donald Trump and other senior US officials have spoken with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about the case and "this continues to come up, will continue to come up, until he's no longer held".

Turkey has submitted an extradition request to the USA for Gulen, who lives in Saylorsburg, Monroe County, Pennsylvania, but so far it has not been granted. "You have a pastor, too", Erdogan said in a speech, adding, "You give us that one and we'll work with our judiciary and give back yours".

Gulen, who lives in self-exile in the USA state of Pennsylvania, firmly denies any role in the failed coup and says his Hizmet (Service) movement promotes a peaceful form of Islam.

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

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