US should watch actions if seeking pastor release: Erdogan

US should watch actions if seeking pastor release: Erdogan
The jailing of Christian pastor Andrew Brunson has strained an already-deteriorating relationship between Washington and Ankara.
2 min read
22 April, 2018
US President Donald Trump extending his hand to his Turkish counterpart [Getty]
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said late Saturday the US should look into its own behaviour if it wants Turkey to release US pastor Andrew Brunson from jail, Reuters reported.

Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years, was detained for suspected links to the Gulenist movement. Erdogan holds the group responsible for the 2016 failed coup attempt. 

The American pastor denies all charges against him. He faces up to 35 years in jail. 

Erdogan, who made the comment in a live interview with broadcaster NTV, previously linked Brunson's release to the US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. Gulen has lived in the US since 1999, and Turkey is seeking his extradition.

President Trump and dozens of US lawmakers have repeatedly urged Erdogan to release Brunson.

On Monday, Brunson appeared in court for the first time since his detention 18 months ago. Speaking in fluent Turkish, he rejected all charges laid against him. "I am a Christian. I would not join an Islamic movement," he said, referring to the Gulenists Turkish authorities say he is tied to.

The Gulen movement is banned by Turkey and classified as a terror group. Turkish authorities have launched a two-year-long crackdown against the group, with more than 150,000 arrested since the failed coup attempt in July 2016. 

Relations between Ankara and Washington are already strained over America's backing of Kurdish militias fighting the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq. Turkey considers the People's Protection Units (YPG), the main Kurdish force and US partner in Syria, as a terror group.

Turkey views the YPG as the Syrian arm of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which it has fought an armed conflict with for over three decades. The US and the European Union classify the PKK as a terror group.

Brunson was ordered to remain in jail during his April 17 court appearance. The next hearing is scheduled for May 7.

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