U.S. pastor charged with “dividing Turkey” for Gülen, PKK
A court in İzmir, western Turkey, has accepted a prosecutor’s indictment charging U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson with criminal offences on behalf of two separate terrorist organisations, with an aim to “divide Turkey” between the pair.
The charges carry a recommended sentence of up to 35 years, Turkish news site Diken reported on Tuesday.
Brunson was arrested during the aftermath of the failed July 2016 coup attempt, which Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party blames on Islamist cleric Fethullah Gülen and an alleged criminal organisation they call the “Fetthullahist Terrorist Organisation”, or FETÖ.
His arrest came around a year after fighting resumed between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a terrorist-designated group which has been in intermittent conflict with Turkish Armed Forces since launching a separatist insurgency in 1984.
Brunson, the charge sheets says, was part of an entity that aimed to “divide Turkey into several parts” and hand their administration over to these two organisations, and use his position as a Christian minister to sow discord among the population.
“Under the guise of an Evangelist pastor, Brunson acted more like an irregular warfare operative with an intelligence and psychological warfare doctrine,” the charge sheets said of the pastor, who had lived in the city of İzmir for 20 years before his arrest.
Brunson has rejected all the charges, and denies ever having met a member of "FETÖ."
Observers have speculated that Brunson’s arrest should be viewed as part of a Turkish foreign policy strategy of “hostage diplomacy,” in which foreign nationals are arrested and held on flimsy charges in order to provide Turkey with leverage in its international dealings.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s suggestion last that Brunson could be exchanged for the extradition of Gülen, who lives in Pennsylvania, was rejected by U.S. State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert, who said the pastor had been “wrongfully imprisoned.”