US pastor risks life imprisonment in Turkey, over suspected coup support

Andrew Brunson, 50, has been held in prison for over 500 days without formal charges. The public prosecutor claims he is linked to the Gülen movement, alleged "mastermind" of the coup. He risks 35 years in prison. Activists and NGOs speak of "total lack of proof".

Istanbul (AsiaNews / Agencies) - A 50-year-old US pastor, who has been in Turkish jail for over 500 days without any charges against him, risks a life sentence. The man’s lawyers and supporters speak of the sham procedure and shameful, baseless accusations. On the other hand, government authorities claim he is tied to the network that promoted the (failed) coup of summer 2016 and, therefore, demand 35 years in prison that correspond to life imprisonment in the country.

Andrew Brunson, who led a domestic church for 23 years in the coastal city of Izmir is one of tens of thousands of victims of repression launched by the government following the coup launched by a group of senior Turkish army officers.

Turkish authorities claim Brunson is an "official" of the organization that belongs to Fetullah Gulen, considered the master mind of the attempted coup. In recent months, the US pastor has repeatedly rejected allegations of affiliation to the group, for which he would have "stolen secret documents" with the intention of "overthrowing the government".

Activists and human rights organizations in the United States underline the "total lack of evidence" against Brunson, who they say is the victim of "ridiculous and specious accusations". Although he has been receiving legal assistance since December 2016, his conversations with lawyers are always recorded and his legal files have been seized. The defence cannot access the acts.

The charges against the man are based on the testimony of a person whose identity is kept secret. Brunson reportedly received money from the Gülen network to support and finance his missionary work. The accused - who in this year and a half  in prison has lost weight and had health problems - strongly rejects the claim and professes himself to be a devout Christian and a peaceful pastor, who could never receive money from a pro-Islamic movement .

The Turkish public prosecutor this week formalized the request for a sentence of 35 years in prison, equivalent to life imprisonment. Now the court has 15 days to order the indictment.

20 months after Turkey’s failed coup on 14-15 July 2016, when the power President Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan wavered, the campaign of repression against real or imaginary plotters and supporters continues.

According to Turkey’s Justice Ministry, some 50,510 people have been arrested on coup charges, more than 120,000 have been detained, and 169,013 have been the subject of legal proceedings since the failed coup a year ago.

According to data released by the Justice Ministry on Thursday, there are outstanding detention warrants for 8,087 individuals, including 152 military officers, 392 police officers, and 3 governors. Among the arrestees are 169 generals, 7,089 colonels and 24 governors.

A total of 2,431 members of the Turkish judiciary are among those arrested, whilst 265 of them are at large. A total of 4,521 judges and prosecutors were dismissed from their jobs.