U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson, incarcerated in Turkey since October 2016, burst into tears at the first hearing of his trial on terrorism charges in Turkey on Monday.
Brunson sobbed before telling a court in the city of Izmir that he was in a single-person cell and suffering psychologically, according to Hurriyet newspaper. Brunson said he was taking pills to treat his condition and had asked to be transferred out of solitary confinement.
The U.S. pastor is on trial for aiding and abetting the Fethullah Gulen movement, an Islamist movement that Turkey blames for masterminding a coup attempt in July 2016 and labels a terrorist organization. He denies the charges, which carry a prison sentence of 35 years. In his statement to the court, Brunson once more proclaimed his innocence.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “The state has always kept an eye on us. I’ve never done anything against Turkey. Rather I love Turkey. I am praying for Turkey for 25 years. I’m innocent. I want the truth to come out now. I do not agree with any of the claims or charges.”
Brunson’s internment has widened a political rift between Ankara and Washington. President Donald Trump has personally appealed for his release. Relations are at an historic low as the two governments argue over policy in Syria, Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen’s continued residence in the United States and Turkey’s worsening human rights record under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Ambassador at Large Religious Freedom Sam Brownback and Corth Carolina senator Thom Tillis were among the people followed the trial in the court.