Trump tweets support for US pastor jailed in Turkey
United States President Donald Trump voiced his support on April 17 for Pastor Andrew Brunson, who is on trial in Turkey on charges of espionage and terrorism, in a case that has compounded strains in U.S.-Turkish relations.
“Pastor Andrew Brunson, a fine gentleman and Christian leader in the United States, is on trial and being persecuted in Turkey for no reason,” Trump tweeted.
“They call him a spy, but I am more a spy than he is. Hopefully he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!” wrote the U.S. president.
Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, was indicted on charges of helping the Fethullah Gülen network, widely believed to have orchestrated the July 15, 2016 failed coup.
He has been a pastor at the İzmir Resurrection Church, serving a small Protestant congregation in Turkey’s third largest city.
Meanwhile, ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy and spokesperson Mahir Ünal criticized Trump’s tweet about the pastor jailed in İzmir.
“We got used to Trump’s tweets. Turkey is a state of law. Of course, we will respect the ruling. The one to make the judgement about the pastor is not Trump. The judge will make a decision over this. It won’t be right to make a comment during the judicial process,” Ünal said.
The U.S. pastor’s trial is one of several legal cases roiling U.S.-Turkish relations.
Brunson’s lawyer argued that the pastor, who had been detained 18 months ago, is in custody because of his religious beliefs.
The prosecutor’s office said sufficient evidence had been obtained to charge Brunson with aiding armed terrorist organizations and obtaining confidential government information for political and military espionage.
The prosecutors also accuse the pastor of working both with Gülen’s network and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
A court ruled on April 16 to keep Brunson in custody after the first hearing, deeming him to be a flight risk.
His lawyer İsmail Cem Halavurt said on April 15 he believed Brunson would ultimately be acquitted and there was no reason for his continued detention during trial.