Turkey says it would release American Pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been detained for nearly a year, if the United States extradited Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for last year’s failed coup attempt.
“They say ‘give us the pastor’. You have a preacher [Gulen] there. Give him to us, and we will try [Brunson] and give him back,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a televised speech.
Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for 23 years, and his wife, Norine, were arrested for alleged immigration violations in October 2016. She was released, while his charges have been upgraded to supporting Gulen’s network, which Turkey has labeled a terrorist organization.
The couple ran a Christian church in the Aegean city of Izmir.
Norine met with U.S. Secretary of State of Rex Tillerson during his visit last month to Ankara. Tillerson said then that Brunson had been “wrongfully imprisoned”.
A decree last August gave Erdogan the power to extradite foreigners in exchange for Turkish prisoners abroad in “situations where it is necessary for national security or in the country’s interests.” Turkey has repeatedly asked the United States to extradite Pennsylvania-based Gulen, accusing him of organizing the failed military coup last year.
U.S. relations with Turkey have soured recently over a number of issues, including what the U.S. sees as Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule.