Andrew Brunson tells the court, “I have been praying for Turkey for 25 years. I wouldn’t do anything against Turkey.”
For most of American pastor Andrew Brunson’s 18-month imprisonment in Turkey, the government failed to officially indict him or offer the opportunity for bail or his release.
Finally, his terrorism and espionage case came to trial on Monday, but the proceedings continue to underline the strained relations between the United States and Turkey.
Sam Brownback, the US State Department’s new ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, traveled to Turkey this week to back the American pastor in court in Aliaga, just 38 miles from Izmir, the coastal city where Brunson had led a small Presbyterian congregation.
Turkey has accused the evangelical minister—who lived in the Muslim-majority country for 23 years before his arrest following an attempted coup in 2016—of fueling unrest in the country through alleged involvement with exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an insurgent group. Both movements are seen as enemies and threats to the Turkish government.
“I have been praying for Turkey for 25 years. I wouldn’t do anything against Turkey,” the pastor told the court in Turkish during his hearing.
Though Brunson’s March indictment raised the possibility of a life sentence, the 50-year-old now faces a total of 35 years in prison if found guilty in the case, which rests on testimonies from unnamed sources and evidence procured on Brunson’s phone, according to reports.
Trump administration officials, as well as the religious freedom advocates who have come to Brunson’s defense, see the charges as a false attempt to use an innocent American for political leverage. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly offered to free Brunson if the …