Jailed For His Faith? American Pastor to Stand Trial in Turkey Monday

Turkish Police

Pastor Brunson has lived and worked in Turkey for over 22 years.

The Turkish authorities accuse the leader of the Hizmet (FETO) movement, Fethullah Gulen, who resides in the USA, of being involved in an attempted military coup, and demand the U.S. to extradite him.

An American clergyman has gone on trial in Turkey accused of links to the 2016 coup attempt and a banned Kurdish terrorist group in a case that threatens to undermine relations between Ankara and Washington.

Andrew Brunson is facing charges of "committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member" and "espionage".

An American clergyman jailed in Turkey since December 2016 went on trial Monday.

The indictment against him also claims that he helped a group led by Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim preacher living in the US whom Turkish authorities accuse of staging a failed coup in 2016.

"I am sure that Assad still has a chemical weapons stockpile and will use it when he needs it in the process of displacement", Hisham Marwah, a representative of Syria's High Negotiations Committee, told Arab News.

"Give us that pastor", Erdogan said at the time, "and we will do what we can in the judiciary to give you this one".

If convicted, he faces two separate terms of 15 years and 20 years in prison, Brunson's lawyer Cem Halavurt told AFP.

Daniel Hoffman explained the latest in the case: "Today was the very first hearing, he appeared before the court, he strongly denied all the charges against him".

A senior USA official told NBC News, "We are following this case closely, and since his arrest, we have visited Mr. Brunson regularly".

Erdogan has floated the idea of a swap - Brunson in exchange for Gulen, a legal permanent resident in Pennsylvania - in a deal that would amount to hostage negotiating, according to Brunson's lawyers.

Turkey has submitted an extradition request to the US for Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, but so far it not been granted.

Brunson has been indicted on charges of assisting the band which Turkey retains in charge of the failed coup from President Tayyip Erdogan. I would not join an Islamic movement'.

Brunson also denied aiding any PKK suspects and dismissed as a "lie" suggestions he had preached in favor of Kurdish independence.

Numbering just several thousand, the Protestant community in overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim Turkey is extremely small, largely comprising converts from Islam, expatriates and refugees.

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