American pastor faces possible Turkish life sentence

Turkish prosecutors have demanded a life sentence for jailed U.S. pastor Andrew Craig Brunson on charges of “membership and management of a terrorist organisation”, left-wing BirGün newspaper said.

The Protestant cleric’s trial will begin if and when the indictment is accepted by the court, the newspaper said. In the Turkish legal system, the judge decides whether the accused is guilty and then hands down a sentence.

Brunson had been living in the Turkish city of Izmir for 20 years when authorities ordered his deportation for “activities threatening national security” in September 2016.

However, while his deportation was being carried out, an anonymous witness testified in another case that Brunson had carried out missionary activities across Turkey and had called the Gülen movement – which the Turkish government now calls a terrorist group and accuses of carrying out the 2016 failed coup attempt – a religious group.

While neither of those activities were illegal per se, investigators later said that Brunson was in close contact with senior members of the Gülen movement in Izmir, and he was arrested on charges of group membership.

Accused of political and military espionage and attempting to overthrow the Turkish parliament and constitutional order during questioning in court, Brunson denied the charges, BirGün said.

“I am a defender of Jesus Christ. I am a man of faith who has established a church with the knowledge of the state,” Brunson said. “I would never support an Islamic movement. I have never met a FETÖ (Gülen movement) member in my life.”