On trial in Izmir on espionage charges, Pastor Brunson can see some light at the end of the tunnel
Three key prosecution witnesses have retracted their statements a few hours before the start of the fourth hearing in the trial. The prosecution has upheld the charges but has agreed to the accused’s release. Trump might use this in the upcoming mid-term elections.
Izmir (AsiaNews/Agencies) – There might be some light at the end of the tunnel for US pastor Andrew Craig Brunson, a married father of three held in a Turkish jail for more than two years on a number of charges.
At the trial in Izmir, now in its fourth hearing, the prosecution has accused the Christian clergyman of terrorism and demanded a ten-year sentence. At the same time, it accepted a motion to allow Brunson’s release from house arrest for a brief return to the United States. Meanwhile, some key witnesses have withdrawn their testimonies against the pastor.
Some US media cite diplomatic sources saying that Turkish and US officials might have struck a secret deal to free Brunson and thus end a situation that had damaged relations between the two countries.
Brunson’s release could help Donald Trump in the up-coming mid-term election, especially among Evangelicals.
The Christian missionary was arrested in October 2016 on charges of espionage and links with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which Turkey considers a terrorist organization, as well as the movement of Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, accused of masterminding the failed coup in July 2016.
If convicted, Brunson could get up to life in prison, i.e. 35 years in prison. However, the clergyman has always rejected the accusations, calling them "shameful and disgusting". He explained that he had always “strived to prevent politics from entering the church.”
Instead, his work was “helping refugees” from Syria and was not involved with the PKK. One of the things he was trying to do was build a church in Turkey. He has also denied claims that he received money and support from the Gülen network.
The story of the 50-year-old pastor from Black Mountain, North Carolina, head of the Resurrection Church (Dirilis) in Izmir, who has lived for 20 years in the country, is a thorny issue that has soured relations between Ankara and Washington.
The US government has repeatedly called for Brunson’s release, saying that he was being held “unjustly”. For Turkey, the matter before the courts and the government cannot interfere.
The major political and diplomatic row between the two countries, both NATO embers, contributed to collapse of the Turkish lira, which lost 40 per cent of its value since the start of the year.
US media are now saying that the two government have reached an agreement on his release, which would lead to a partial lifting of US sanctions against Turkey.
For his part, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly rejected the pressures from the Trump administration and US public opinion, claiming that he has no power or influence over Turkey’s courts, which he says are independent.