An American clergyman jailed in Turkey since December 2016 went on trial Monday.
Andrew Craig Brunson is accused of spying and “committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member.” If found guilty, he faces up to 35 years in prison.
The case has hurt relations between Turkey and the United States.
The 50-year-old Brunson is an evangelical Christian. He is from the state of North Carolina. The Associated Press reports that he has lived in Turkey for 23 years and has served as the pastor of Izmir Resurrection Church.
He and his wife Norine were arrested for suspected immigration violations in October 2016. Their arrests came weeks after members of Turkey’s armed forces attempted to overthrow the government.
The overthrow attempt failed. More than 250 people were killed in the unrest. In the year after the overthrow attempt, the government arrested more than 40,000 people.
Norine Brunson was later released. But Turkish officials expanded the charges against her husband. They accuse him of having links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which is banned in the country.
Turkey also accuses him of ties to a group led by exiled Muslim clergyman Fethullah Gulen. The government blames Gulen and his followers for the failed overthrow attempt. He denies any wrongdoing. The Turkish clergyman lives in the American state of Pennsylvania.
On Monday, Andrew Brunson spoke at the beginning of his trial. He told the court “I don’t accept any of the allegations or accusations." The state-operated Anadolu news agency reported his comments.
“I did not engage in any illegal activity. I had no relations with anyone engaged in such activity." Brunson added, “I am a Christian pastor. I did not join an Islamic movement. Their aims and mine are different.”
The U.S. government has repeatedly asked Turkey to release Brunson. American President Donald Trump urged President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to have his government “expeditiously” return the pastor to the United States.
In September 2017, Turkey said it would release Brunson if the United States agreed to surrender Gulen.
In a television broadcast, Erdogan spoke about the case. “They say ‘give us the pastor,’ he said. You have a preacher (Gulen) there. Give him to us, and we will try (Brunson) and give him back.”
A declaration last year gave Erdogan the power to offer foreigners in exchange for Turkish prisoners jailed overseas. The order permits such exchanges in “situations where it is necessary for national security or in the country’s interests.”
U.S. relations with Turkey have worsened recently over a number of issues. They include, what the U.S. government considers to be Erdogan’s expanding powers.
I’m Ashley Thompson.
George Grow wrote this story for VOA Learning English. His report was based on information from the Associated Press and VOANews.com. Mario Ritter was the editor.
Words in This Story
commit – v. to carry out or do something
behalf – n. someone’s interest or support
evangelical – adj. of or relating to a Christian group that believes in the power of Jesus Christ as God’s son
pastor - n. a clergyman responsible for a group of religious believers
church – n. a building that is used for religious services
allegation – n. claim or accusation
engage – v. to take part in; the organize the use of something
expeditiously – adj. acting or doing something quickly
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