Turkey court rejects appeal for US pastor Andrew Brunson's release

Brunson (right) is escorted by Turkish plain-clothes police officers in Izmir. PHOTO: AFP

ANKARA (AFP) - A Turkish court on Tuesday (July 31) rejected an appeal to release from house arrest a US pastor whose detention on terror-related charges has strained relations between Nato allies Ankara and Washington.

The court in the Aegean region of Izmir rejected an appeal by the lawyer for Andrew Brunson, who ran a Protestant church, to have him released from house arrest and have his travel ban removed, state-run Anadolu news agency said.

The court had last week ordered that Brunson, who had spent almost two years in jail after his initial detention in October 2016, be moved from jail to house arrest at his home in Izmir.

But the move stoked tensions rather than defusing the crisis, with US media reports accusing Turkey of reneging on a deal to free him, which Ankara has denied.

Last week, US President Donald Trump threatened to impose "large sanctions" on Turkey if the pastor was not freed, following similar warnings from his Vice-President Mike Pence.

But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted that sanction threats would not force Ankara to take a "step back", in comments reported on Sunday.

Erdogan's spokesman Ibrahim Kalin later said Turkey would not give into threats. "It is not possible to accept in any way threatening language against Turkey," Kalim told reporters in Ankara after a Cabinet meeting.


Relations between Turkey and the United States have been tense over multiple issues including American support for a Syrian Kurdish militia who Turkey claims are terrorists as well as the failure to extradite US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen.

Ankara accuses Gulen of organising the July 2016 failed coup, claims which he denies.

Brunson risks up to 35 years in jail if convicted of carrying out activities on behalf of two organisations Turkey deems to be terror groups: the Gulen movement and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Brunson denies the charges while US officials have repeatedly stressed that Brunson is innocent. Trump has previously called the pastor a "fine gentleman".

Brunson is one of several American nationals caught up in the crackdown after the attempted putsch two years ago.

Nasa scientist Serkan Golge, a dual national, was jailed for over seven years in February for being a member of Gulen's movement. Two employees from American missions in Turkey remain in custody and another under house arrest.

The next hearing in Brunson's trial is on Oct 12.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during this week's meeting of the Association of South-east Asian Nations.

Washington in June threatened to block the delivery of F-35 stealth jets to Turkey if Ankara purchased Russia's S-400 air defence system, but Erdogan has said Turkey would seek international arbitration if the delivery did not go through.

"This is an international project with several partners. This is not a project executed by the United States alone," Kalin said, adding that Turkey was a partner.

He also said that Ankara had legal ways to challenge any block on the delivery because there were agreements in place.

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