US pastor jailed in Turkey accused of special sermons to Kurds, contact with Gülen movement

US pastor jailed in Turkey accused of special sermons to Kurds, contact with Gülen movement

İsmail Saymaz - ISTANBUL
US pastor jailed in Turkey accused of special sermons to Kurds, contact with Gülen movement An American pastor who was arrested in Turkey last year and whose release has been demanded by U.S. President Donald Trump is accused of delivering special sermons to the Kurdish people and having links to the movement of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen.

On Dec. 9, 2016, Andrew Brunson was charged with membership in the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ), the network of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen who is accused of masterminding the July 2016 failed coup attempt.

Brunson is accused of delivering sermons to the Kurds with “a special purpose” at the İzmir Resurrection Church. Brunson stated that he did not speak Kurdish and that he delivered sermons to all kinds of people, including Kurds.

Brunson said he handed the podium to a Kurdish man to deliver a sermon while also sharing it with eight different people without making any discrimination. 

Separately, the pastor is also accused of having links to FETÖ.

During a meeting at the church, Brunson reportedly said it would be beneficial to have dialogue with the organization. However, the pastor said he did not have contact with any FETÖ member and had not visited the now-closed daily Zaman, which was linked to the Gülen movement.

In his hearing, Brunson said he did not defend interfaith dialogue and cooperation. He also said his church hosted refugees and provided food aid. 

According to the pastor, masses were conducted in Arabic and Kurdish for those who did not speak Turkish but he denied attending those masses and engaging in politics at the church.

The White House stated on May 16 that Trump had urged Turkey to release Brunson following the U.S. president’s first face-to-face meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

“President Trump raised the incarceration of Pastor Andrew Brunson and asked that the Turkish government expeditiously return him to the United States,” the White House said in a statement.

İzmir police previously sent a note to Brunson and his wife, Norine Lyn, after the Immigration Authority issued a notification on Sept. 28, 2016, for their deportation on the grounds that their religious activities were alleged to be “against national security.” 

In April 2011, Brunson was attacked by a local man while he was in the yard of a church in İzmir. The assailant had reportedly shouted during the attack that he would bomb a church in the nearby province of Manisa, from which he had come to carry out the attack. He was later acquitted on charges of being a member of al-Qaeda.