Ankara (Agenzia Fides) - Some US senators have sent the Turkish Ministry of Justice the request to be present at the upcoming trial against Andrew Craig Brunson, the US evangelical pastor detained in Turkey on charges of connivance with Hizmet, the organization of the Turkish Islamic preacher Fetullah Gulen, indicated by Ankara as the inspirer of the failed coup of 15 July 2016. The opening of the trial is scheduled for April 16th. According to the recent report by the newspaper Habertürk, among US senators who asked to be present at the hearings, there is also a former classmate of Pastor Brunson. Turkish sources do not report the number of US politicians who sent the request to participate in the trial, but last February 78 members of Congress and 37 US senators had signed a letter sent to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with a request to release Brunson without conditions.
Brunson faces a 35-year prison sentence if the charges of espionage and flanking of Hizmet and of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, considered as “terrorist organization” by both Turkey and the US, will be upheld.
The story of the American evangelical pastor has become a battleground between Erdogan’s Turkey and the current US administration (see Fides 2/10/2017). Already responsible for the Evangelical Church of the Resurrection in Izmir (Smirne Diriliş Kilisesi), Andrew Craig Brunson had been summoned by the Turkish immigration office in October 2016, along with his wife, Lyn Norine. The couple was initially informed of the obligation to leave Turkey, justifying this measure with the vague accusation of having received funds from abroad to finance missionary initiatives and to have endangered the security of the country with their activities. Subsequently, the Turkish press reported that for the evangelical pastor the expulsion decree had turned into an arrest, after a secret witness had accused him of belonging to the so-called FETO (Turkish acronym of "Fethullahnista terrorist organization", definition with which pro-government Turkish organs indicate the Gulen network). In prison, Brunson had received visits from senior US Embassy officials to Turkey, and US President Donald Trump had also requested the release of the evangelical pastor during the May 2017 meeting in the White House with Turkish President Erdogan. Last August, after Trump’s intervention, Brunson had been accused of even more serious crimes than he had in the past, and had been transferred to a maximum security prison, where some defendants are held to be among the highest officials of the failed coup of 2016. Last September 28, Erdogan himself had declared himself ready to release the US evangelical pastor only if in return the US authorities will hand over to Turkey Fethullah Gulen, who has been exiled to the USA since 1999. (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 11/4/2018)