Andrew Brunson: US pastor on trial in Turkey on terror charges

Evangelical Christian pastor Andrew Brunson ran a church in the Turkish city of Izmir. He faces two separate terms of 15 and 20 years in prison if convicted.

A Turkish court on Monday decided to keep a US pastor in prison pending trial on terror-related charges. Andrew Brunson went on trail over alleged involvement with both the movement of Fethullah Gulen — a Muslim preacher who lives in self-imposed exile in the US who Ankara says masterminded a failed 2016 coup in Turkey — and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). 

The trial further increases tensions between Turkey and the US — two NATO allies. In the Syria conflict, the United States has backed fighters from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG); a group Turkey considers a terrorist organization, and Washington refuses to extradite Gulen, despite repeated demands by Ankara.

Read more: The shared past of AKP and the Gülen movement

Pastor Andrew Brunson has been in jail in Turkey since 2016

What are the charges against Brunson?

  • Ankara accuses Brunson of gathering intelligence using his religious work as cover, and working to convert Kurds to Christianity to "divide" the country.     
  • He was originally charged with membership of Gulen's group and risked life imprisonment.
  • The latest indictment explicitly states he is not charged with being a member of Gulen's group or the PKK.

Read more: Fethullah Gulen, the man behind the myth

NATO partners adrift: USA and Turkey

Jovial gestures belie multiple disputes

May 16, 2017: Trump welcomes Erdogan to Washington, saying both presidents have a "great relationship" and would make it "even better." Erdogan congratulates Trump on his "legendary" 2016 election win but complains bitterly about US arming of the Kurdish YPG militia, claiming that its inclusion in the US-led campaign against IS in in war-torn Syria provides a cover for Kurdish separatism.

NATO partners adrift: USA and Turkey

Melee becomes further irritant

May 17: As Erdogan ends his visit, Voice of America video footage emerges showing his guards assaulting Kurdish protesters outside the Turkish ambassador's residence in Washington. A month later, US authorities issue arrest warrants for 12 members of Erdogan's security detail, who had long returned to Turkey. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the assaults breached "legitimate" free speech.

NATO partners adrift: USA and Turkey

First anniversary of coup attempt

July 15, 2017: Turkey marks the first anniversary of the failed coup attempt. In a post-coup bid crackdown 50,000 people were arrested, accused of links to the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, an Erdogan ally-turned-rival. Tens of thousands more face job suspensions. The refusal of the US to extradite Gulen has been a major sore spot in relations.

NATO partners adrift: USA and Turkey

Turkey 'uneasy' about US arming of Kurdish militia

August 23: US Defense Secretary James Mattis visits Ankara as the Pentagon stresses US commitment to bilateral relations and "honest dialogue." Mattis had just visited Iraq to assess the anti-IS campaign. Erdogan tells Turkish media that Turkey will thwart any attempt by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) to establish a "terror corridor" in northern Syria through to the Mediterranean.

NATO partners adrift: USA and Turkey

Turkey arrests US consulate employee

October 5: Turkish authorities arrest Metin Topuz, a Turkish national employed at the US consulate in Istanbul. He is formally charged with espionage and collaboration in the 2016 coup attempt. The US embassy in Ankara subsequently says it is "deeply disturbed" by the arrest. It's reportedly the second since March, when a Turkish US consulate employee was arrested in Adana.

NATO partners adrift: USA and Turkey

US and Turkey suspend their respective visa services

October 8-9: The United States suspends its issuance of non-immigrant visa applications to Turkish nationals, saying it has to "reassess" Turkish readiness to respect security at US diplomatic missions. Turkey suspends its visa services for US nationals and summons another staffer at the US consulate in Istanbul.

NATO partners adrift: USA and Turkey

Attempts to make amends

November 6: The US Embassy in Ankara announces that it is reinstating its visa program for Turkish tourists on a "limited" basis after receiving assurances from the government that no employees will be detained "for carrying out official duties." Shortly thereafter, Turkey confirms that it is also resuming visa services for US citizens one day before Prime Minister Yildirim visits Washington.

NATO partners adrift: USA and Turkey

At odds over Russian missiles

December through August, 2018: In December, Turkey announced it would buy the Russian S-400 missile system, which is incompatable with NATO systems. The US Congress has included a provision in a defense bill that would cut Turkey out of the F-35 fighter jet program if it moves forward with the S-400 deal.

NATO partners adrift: USA and Turkey

Release the pastor ... or else

August 1, 2018: The US sanctions Turkey's interior and justice ministers over the continued detention of pastor Andrew Brunson. Brunson had been moved from prison to house arrest in late July, but that fell short of US demands for his immediate release and end to terror and espionage charges. Brunson was arrested almost two years ago.

‘Christianity on trial’

The American Center for Law and Justice, a US conservative Christian group lobbying for Brunson's release, has called him a "hostage of the Turkish government."

Half a million people have signed a petition calling for Brunson’s release, stating that the case was putting Christianity on trial.

US President Donald Trump has asked Ankara to "expeditiously" return the pastor to the United States.

Read more: Turkey-US relations 'entering a risky period'

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TOP STORIES | 12.07.2017

Gulen would accept extradition to Turkey

Longtime missionary: Brunson, a 50-year-old from the US state of North Carolina, has lived in Turkey for 23 years and served as the pastor of the Izmir Resurrection Church. He was first detained in October 2016 with his wife, Norine Brunson, who was later released.

Fetullah Terrorist Organization: Turkey blames Fethullah Gulen for orchestrating the 2016 coup. Ankara claims Gulen operates a global network of supporters, which the government has labeled a terrorist group — the so-called Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) — which Ankara says wants to topple the Turkish government.

Government clampdown: Turkey launched a nationwide crackdown on suspected Gulen supporters after the failed putsch, arresting tens of thousands of people and dismissing more than 100,000 public servants from their jobs, the majority of whom were accused of having links to FETO. Andrew Brunson is also charged of being involved with FETO.

Turkey: The failed coup and its aftermath

Bloodshed by the Bosphorus

A blood covered resident of Istanbul stands near the Bosphorus Bridge. There were clashes between civilians and the army after the military had blocked the bridge. Government sources say that more than 260 people were killed in fighting during the coup attempt.

Turkey: The failed coup and its aftermath

Tanks roll through streets

Tanks drove through several cities in the night in a completely surprise move. The Turkish military announced its takeover. The tracked vehicles flattened cars in the streets of Istanbul and Ankara, turning the country into a war zone.

Turkey: The failed coup and its aftermath

Lights out in parliament

After the bombing of parliament in Ankara, the building is in ruins. Fighter jets flew low over the capital and had the citizens panicking.

Turkey: The failed coup and its aftermath

Who owns the Republic Monument?

The army not only closed the Bosphorus Bridge: it also occupied Taksim Square, a main transportation hub in Istanbul. The soldiers positioned themselves in front of the Republic Monument.

Turkey: The failed coup and its aftermath

Icon of resistance

Erdogan supporters also protested on the square. A showdown began when a soldier pointed his gun at a man. The army opened fire on the protesting crowd on the square.

Turkey: The failed coup and its aftermath

The calm after the storm

Shirts off their backs: After the failed coup attempt, rebel soldiers laid down their arms on the Bosporus Bridge and fled.

Turkey: The failed coup and its aftermath

Put to flight

After the armed forces had surrendered, soldiers tried to get on a bus to flee from the angry masses.

Turkey: The failed coup and its aftermath

Cheering crowds

President Tayyip Erdogan returned to Istanbul. Cheering crowds received him at the airport. Erdogan announced that the rebels would pay a heavy price.

Turkey: The failed coup and its aftermath

It's over!

Erdogan supporters triumph and wave the Turkish flag after the army's withdrawal. The coup attempt has failed.

Turkey: The failed coup and its aftermath

Posing on a tank

Bizarre souvenir: A mother took a picture of her daughter on top of a tank. The tank on the Bosphorus Bridge was surrounded by Turkish police.

Preacher swap: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan referred to Washington in a speech to police officers last year: "'Give us the pastor back,' they say. You have one pastor as well. Give him (Gulen) to us," he said. "Then we will try him (Brunson) and give him to you. The (pastor) we have is on trial. Yours is not — he is living in Pennsylvania. You can give him easily. You can give him right away." The idea of a swap deal was brushed off by Washington.

No deal: US officials have said that Turkey has failed insufficient evidence to justify Gulen’s extradition, raising frustration in Ankara. Brunson, if convicted, could face two separate terms of 15 and 20 years in prison. 

kw/rt (AP, AFP)

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