Prosecutor paves way for Brunson’s release after key witnesses flipped
Banu Şen - İZMİR
Norine Brunson (R), wife of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson, attended her husband's court hearing in Izmir, Turkey October 12, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal
The prosecutor in the trial against an American pastor at the heart of a diplomatic dispute between Turkey and the United States has paved the way for release after key witnesses backtracked from their implicating testimonies in today’s hearing.
The fourth hearing against Andrew Brunson began at 10:40 a.m. in a prison complex in the Aliağa district of the coastal city of İzmir.
The evangelical pastor is accused of terror-related charges and espionage, facing up to 35 years if convicted.
The prosecution made its final case, demanding the court to sentence Brunson to 10 years in jail, while also asking the judge to lift “precautionary judicial measures,” which means that the pastor can be released immediately even if he is convicted, pending appeals procedures.
In the first part of the hearing that took place until the noon break, three witnesses of the prosecution, as well as a witness of the defense, testified.
One of the witnesses, Büşra Fatma Ün, said she had never heard before that the members of the illegal PKK were treated at a hospital owned by a friend of Brunson and were then sent to Syria to fight.
Another witness, who was unidentified, said he had never seen the members of which the Turkish authorities label as FETÖ in a prayer house by Brunson. He said he had heard it only as a rumor.
On the other hand, another unidentified witness also backtracked from his claim that a Syrian member of Brunson’s congregation was making bombs for terror attacks.
Retracting his earlier statements in the indictment, the witness said he is a nationalist and views all Syrians as terrorists.
Brunson reiterated his innocence in the hearing as the court is now expected to issue its ruling.
The pastor was imprisoned for nearly two years before being placed under house arrest on July 25 for health reasons.
The court’s decision failed to improve tensions between the two NATO allies, and Washington sanctioned two Turkish officials and doubled tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum imports.
The U.S. attempts for the release of the pastor have intensified ahead of a Congress election in November. Brunson has been the highest profile case, but moreover, the U.S. administration wants the release of other detained American citizens, along with two locally employed U.S. consulate staff.
Following a major escalation of tensions in August, the bilateral ties have been in slight thaw since September. Erdoğan and his American counterpart Trump, who had been in a war of words just one month ago, spoke briefly in late September on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.