US pastor detained in Turkey jailed on terror charges

US pastor detained in Turkey jailed on terror charges
Andrew Brunson, pastor of a Protestant church in Izmir has lived in Turkey for 23 years. He stands accused of 'Gulenist' links, charges his lawyers and family call "unfounded".
2 min read
15 December, 2016
Brunson has been in police custody since October 7 [AFP]
The family of a US pastor imprisoned in Turkey on terrorism charges has launched a campaign calling for his release, stating that his ongoing detention is based on false charges and a lack of evidence.

Andrew Brunson, pastor of a Protestant church in Izmir, has lived in Turkey with his wife for 23 years. He was originally detained by Turkish authorities in October and stands accused of links to controversial US-based cleric Fetullah Gulen, who Ankara holds responsible for the failed July 15 coup which took place in Turkey this summer.

On October 7 when Brunson was originally summoned to a local police station in Izmir, the US citizen is said to have believed that he would be issued a permanent residence card. But instead he was detained and told he would be deported.

However, last Friday, after 63 days in captivity, Brunson was charged in a counter-terrorism centre in Izmir of “membership in an armed terrorist organisation” and was imprisoned rather than deported.

Members of the Brunson family have described the pastor’s detainment as “unfounded” and “disturbing” while the US State Department has told Fox News that is in the process of providing “appropriate consular services” and takes the detention of US citizens abroad “seriously”.

"The government of Turkey – led by an Islamic party – has begun increased crackdowns on Christians, and pastor Andrew, if convicted, may face years in prison based on extremely serious – and false – charges," said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, which is representing Brunson's family, said this week.

Brunson was originally imprisoned on October 7 [Screengrab from Twitter]

"We are launching a global campaign to call attention to his plight demanding that Turkey – a NATO member – release pastor Andrew without delay." 

At least ten foreign nationals, in addition to Brunson, have been arrested in Turkey since July 15, Turkey’s Deputy Foreign Minister has previously said.

In the aftermath of the failed coup attempt thousands of Turkish nationals across sectors public and private have been arrested, while thousands more have been suspended from their jobs. 

Rights groups have accused Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of exploiting emergency powers to curtail civil liberties such as freedom of speech and expression and conduct wide sweeping purges on those accused of opposing his rule.

Ankara has repeatedly called for the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, accused of masterminding the July 15 coup attempt. 

However, to date Washington has refused arguing that the cleric would be unlikely to face a fare trial if he returned to Turkey.