Turkey Keeps U.S. Pastor Jailed in Case Straining U.S. Ties

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A Turkish court refused to free a jailed American pastor to house arrest, in a case that has strained already troubled ties with Washington.

Pastor Andrew Brunson was imprisoned in Turkey shortly after the July 2016 coup attempt on charges of collaborating with Turkey’s foes and attempting to stir chaos by inciting hatred based on religious and ethnic differences. American officials including President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have demanded his release.

“The entire U.S. government is following Mr. Brunson’s case closely,” the State Department said in a statement on Tuesday. “We have seen no credible evidence that Mr. Brunson is guilty of a crime and are convinced that he is innocent,” it added, urging Turkey to resolve his case in a timely, fair, and transparent manner.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a government agency, called for sanctions against Turkey.

“We are deeply disappointed,” commission chairman Daniel Mark said in an emailed statement. Brunson’s continued imprisonment is yet another reason “for Congress and the administration to consider stronger steps against Turkey, including the imposition of targeted sanctions against those involved in this miscarriage of justice,” Mark said.

Brunson is accused of aiding two of Ankara’s archenemies: U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the government accuses of masterminding the botched putsch, and the autonomy-seeking Kurdish PKK group, branded a terrorist organization by the U.S., the European Union and Turkey. He says he is innocent of any wrongdoing.

The pastor appealed to the court to release him while his trial proceeds, saying he had suffered a breakdown and was taking psychiatric medication, according to Hurriyet newspaper. If convicted, he could face a maximum of 35 years in prison, state-run Anadolu Agency reported.



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