A number of U.S. senators have applied to Turkey’s Justice Ministry to attend the first court hearing next week of Andrew Brunson, a U.S. pastor held in jail in Turkey for 16 months and facing charges of membership of banned terrorist organisations, Habertürk newspaper said on Tuesday.
The case of the jailed pastor is but one of a growing list of issues between the United States and its NATO ally Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in September that Turkey would exchange Brunson for U.S.-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen, the man Ankara accuses of orchestrating the failed July 2016 coup attempt.
Brunson is facing a possible life sentence on charges of membership of the Gülen movement, a secretive Islamist sect that encouraged its members to infiltrate the civil service, armed forces, judiciary and media, and also membership of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Kurdish nationalist armed group that has been fighting Turkey since 1984.
Habertürk did not say how many U.S. senators had applied to attend the court hearing on April 16, but said one of them was reported to be his former classmate.
The U.S. State Department has called for Turkey to release Brunson and in February, 37 U.S. senators and 78 members of Congress signed a letter to Erdoğan asking for his unconditional release.
In September of 2016, Turkish authorities ordered Brunson to be deported from the Aegean city of Izmir where he had been living for two decades, citing “activities threatening national security”.
But before the deportation was carried out, an anonymous witness testified in another case that Brunson had carried out missionary activities across Turkey and contacted the Gülen movement. The pastor was then arrested on charges of membership of the Gülen movement on Dec. 9, 2016.