Turkish authorities ruled Wednesday that an American pastor held on dubious charges of espionage would remain imprisoned, despite the U.S.’s repeated demands for his freedom.
Pastor Andrew Brunson, an American pastor from North Carolina, faced his third hearing in Turkey Wednesday on charges of using ministry as a cover for espionage and aiding an Islamic terrorist group. The presiding judge denied his defense’s request for him to be freed, as the court has denied such requests in Brunson’s previous two hearings, and ruled that he will remain imprisoned until his next hearing on Oct. 12. (RELATED: President Trump Slams Turkey’s Imprisonment Of US Pastor)
Turkey’s refusal to release Brunson has further strained relations between the U.S. and the Turkish government. President Donald Trump, the U.S. Department of State, 66 U.S. senators, and 154 U.S. representatives have demanded Brunson’s freedom and safe return to the U.S. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in turn responded that Turkey would only release Brunson if the U.S. agreed to extradite Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish Muslim cleric living in Pennsylvania, whom Turkish authorities alleged to have helped orchestrate the failed Turkish coup in July 2016.
The U.S. has refused to extradite Gülen on the grounds that there is no evidence that he had direct involvement in the coup.
Aykan Erdemir, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, argued that the indictment against Erdemir, which alleges not only that he committed espionage against Turkey but also aided the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and Gülen’s followers, has no basis in any credible evidence or witness accounts. Prosecution has relied on the testimony of three secret witnesses and, according to Erdemir, a convicted murderer. Trump also ridiculed the allegation that Brunson was a spy, saying in a tweet “They call him a Spy, but I am more a Spy than he is.”
Brunson has maintained his innocence throughout his ordeal and argued that it is unreasonable to assert that he, as a Christian pastor, would aid an Islamist movement or engage in military espionage.
“These accusations are shameful and disgusting. There is not one photograph or tape recording praising the PKK at the (Izmir) Resurrection Church. Our church had several Turkish followers. Our doors were open to everyone. I strived to prevent politics entering the church,” Brunson said during his second hearing. (RELATED: ‘Secret Witness’ Claims US Pastor Imprisoned In Turkey Tried To Establish Kurdish Christian State)
Erdemir asserted that Erdogan is simply using Brunson as a political pawn.
“The Turkish government has no intentions of providing Pastor Brunson a fair trial,” Erdemir said in 2017.
“Ankara sees Brunson as a hostage that they can use as leverage in their relations with the United States,” he added.
Turkish authorities have kept Brunson imprisoned since October of 2016 when they arrested him. If convicted, Brunson could be imprisoned for a further 35 years.
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