An American pastor imprisoned in Turkey is set to go on trial on April 16 in the Aegean province of İzmir in a case that has increased tensions between Washington and Ankara.
Andrew Craig Brunson, an evangelical pastor from North Carolina, is facing 35 years in prison on charges of "committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member" and "espionage."
The indictment accuses Brunson of being linked to the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), widely believed to have orchestrated the 2016 failed coup attempt, and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Prosecutors demand 15 years in jail for the pastor for “committing crimes on behalf of terror organizations without being a member,” while seeking up to 20 years for “political or military espionage.”
The indictment said Brunson was allegedly involved in converting Kurds to Christianity and aiming to establish a Kurdish state for them.
“It was understood that some of the church’s executives and priests were trying to take root in our country by establishing associations under the guise of a missionary operation. [They were] aiming to divide our country into a few pieces and give a small part to the administration of the FETÖ terror group,” said the indictment.
American officials have repeatedly requested that Brunson be released, with even President Donald Trump asking that Turkey "expeditiously" return the pastor. But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has demanded that the U.S. first extradite Fethullah Gülen.