Detained US pastor goes on trial in Turkey April 16: report


Istanbul (AFP)

An American pastor held in Turkey for one and a half years in a case that further strained relations between Ankara and Washington is to go on trial on April 16 on terror-related charges, a report said Monday.

Andrew Brunson, who ran a church in the western city of Izmir, was detained by the Turkish authorities in October 2016 and then remanded in custody.

He is charged in the indictment with carrying out activities on behalf of the group led by preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara says masterminded the failed coup in 2016, and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Both are banned by Turkey as terror groups.

Brunson faces two separate terms of 15 years and 20 years in prison on the charges, which will come to court on April 16 in Izmir, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.

However the charges appear lighter than those outlined in the original indictment published on March 13, where Brunson was accused of being a member of Gulen's group and risked life imprisonment if convicted.

Gulen, who is based in the US state of Pennsylvania and who Turkey wants to see extradited to face trial, denies the charges of masterminding the failed coup.

The Brunson case has become one of several sticking points in relations between Turkey and its NATO ally. The matter has been raised by US President Donald Trump in talks with Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan had in September 2017 controversially suggested that the United States could exchange Gulen for Brunson, a suggestion that was brushed off by Washington.

"They say 'give us the pastor'. You have a preacher (Gulen) there. Give him to us, and we will try (Brunson) and give him back," Erdogan said then.

Evangelical pastor Brunson was initially detained along with his wife Norine although she was released in December 2016.

The indictment, issued some one-and-a-half years after Brunson was first detained, highlights the severity of the case.

Despite hopes for a warming in ties when Trump came to power, Turkey-US relations have soured badly over American support for Kurdish militia in Syria and the detention of two Turkish nationals working for US missions in Turkey.