An American pastor who has spent 18 months in Turkish custody appeared for the first time in court Monday, denying accusations of espionage and contacts with terrorists in a case that has exacerbated tense relations between Washington and Ankara.
U.S. pastor Brunson breaks down at Turkish trial
U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson, incarcerated in Turkey since October 2016, burst into tears at the first hearing of his trial on terrorism charges in Turkey on Monday.
Brunson sobbed before telling a court in the city of Izmir that he was in a single-person cell and suffering psychologically, according to Hurriyet newspaper. Brunson said he was taking pills to treat his condition and had asked to be transferred out of solitary confinement.
The U.S. pastor is on trial for aiding and abetting the Fethullah Gulen movement, an Islamist movement that Turkey blames for masterminding a coup attempt in July 2016 and labels a terrorist organization. He denies the charges, which carry a prison sentence of 35 years. In his statement to the court, Brunson once more proclaimed his innocence.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “The state has always kept an eye on us. I’ve never done anything against Turkey. Rather I love Turkey. I am praying for Turkey for 25 years. I’m innocent. I want the truth to come out now. I do not agree with any of the claims or charges.”
Brunson’s internment has widened a political rift between Ankara and Washington. President Donald Trump has personally appealed for his release. Relations are at an historic low as the two governments argue over policy in Syria, Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen’s continued residence in the United States and Turkey’s worsening human rights record under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Ambassador at Large Religious Freedom Sam Brownback and Corth Carolina senator Thom Tillis were among the people followed the trial in the court.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the indictment against Mr. Brunson is largely based on anonymous witnesses, some of whom were expected to testify later Monday.
WSJ wrote with regards to the trial:
The accusation that the pastor has had links to supporters of Mr. Gulen is also tied to a picture investigators found in his phone, according to court documents. The picture features a meat-and-rice dish widely popular across the Middle East, Maqluba, which is described as a Gulenist delicacy in the court documents.
Mr. Brunson said his daughter had sent him the picture but added he didn’t know the dish’s name at the time or its alleged connection to Gulenists.
“I learned of this dish in the indictment file,” Mr. Brunson told judges.