“I am a Christian. I would not join an Islamic movement!” – Falsely detained Christian Pastor’s trial is now underway

As we’ve reported over the last two years, Christian pastor Andrew Brunson was detained by Erdogan after the 2016 coup on phony charges of being in cahoots with Fethullah Gulen. His trial in Turkey has finally begun:

YAHOO – An American Christian pastor who has spent the last one and a half years in jail in Turkey strongly rejected terror-related charges on Monday as his trial got underway, in a case that has raised tensions with Washington.

Andrew Brunson, who ran a protestant church in the western city of Izmir, was detained by Turkish authorities in October 2016. If convicted, he risks up to 35 years in jail.

Brunson — wearing a black suit, speaking in fluent Turkish and at one point bursting into tears — was present in court in the town of Aliaga north of Izmir for the hearing, an AFP correspondent said.

In an indication of the importance of the case for Washington, also in court were Sam Brownback, the US ambassador at large for religious freedoms, and Senator Thom Tillis.

“I want the whole truth to be revealed. I reject all the accusations in the indictment. I haven’t been involved in any illegal activity,” Brunson told the court.

“I haven’t done anything against Turkey. On the contrary, I love Turkey. I have been praying for Turkey for 25 years,” added Brunson, who moved to the country in 1993 and opened his Izmir church in 2010.

Turkish prosecutors have charged Brunson with engaging in activities on behalf of the group led by Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen — who Ankara says is behind a failed 2016 coup — and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Both are banned by Turkey as terror groups. Brunson is also accused of espionage for political or military purposes.

I doubt very seriously that Brunson will get a fair trial, even though the charges against him are preposterous.

He even told the court that joining up with Gulen would be an insult to his religion, and he’s right:

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

In his statement to the court, Brunson rejected the accusations of links to Gulen’s group, saying: “That would be an insult to my religion. I am a Christian. I would not join an Islamic movement.”

Gulen, who lives in self-exile in the US state of Pennsylvania, firmly denies any role in the failed coup and says his Hizmet (Service) movement promotes a peaceful form of Islam.

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

His wife Norine, who was detained with him and then released in December 2016, was also present in court for the hearing.

In scenes of heavy emotion, Brunson at one point broke down in tears after greeting his wife and complaining of being tired out by the constant prison transfers.

As we’ve told you before, the only reason Erdogan had Brunson put in jail in the first place was to give him leverage to try and get the US (first Obama, then Trump) to send him Gulen. Remember, Erdogan told Trump last year that he’d release Brunson in exchange for Gulen.

So with that ship having sailed, I do wonder if Turkey will finally give up and set him free or if they will falsely convict Bruson and put him in jail for 30 years. If the latter happens, then I’d be all for a special forces rescue mission to get him out of the country. But I just don’t see that happening either.

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