By Selcan Hacaoglu
An American pastor jailed in Turkey may face a maximum of 35 years in prison in connection with a 2016 coup attempt, according to an indictment liable to further strain ties with Washington.
Andrew Brunson, who was imprisoned in the government purges that followed the botched putsch, was charged with espionage and attempting to topple Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency. The pastor is also accused of collaborating with Kurdish PKK militant group fighting for autonomy in Turkey’s southeast, the agency said.
A court will decide whether to accept the indictment and send him to trial. A report by Haberturk television earlier said the prosecutor demanded life in prison for Brunson, but Anadolu later said the charges are punishable with a maximum 35 years in prison.
“We have seen the stories. We are working to verify the information,” U.S. Embassy spokesman David Gainer said in an emailed statement. The U.S. has been trying to secure the pastor’s release, and high-ranking officials have brought up the case in meetings with Turkish leaders.
The charges add to a series of disputes already hurting Turkey’s relations with the U.S. Turkish authorities have demanded the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based cleric they blame for the July 2016 coup attempt, and have arrested U.S. consular staff they accuse of supporting it. Erdogan has suggested swapping the two clerics, though Prime Minister Binali Yildirim later ruled out an exchange.
“I know the allegations against my father are absurd,” Brunson’s daughter Jacqueline told the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Friday as she sought help to secure her father’s release, according to the American Center for Law and Justice. “He is not an armed terrorist trying to overthrow any government, my father is a peaceful pastor.”
Anadolu said the indictment accuses Brunson of committing crimes “while posing as a pastor.”
Brunson is accused of knowingly contacting high-ranking members of the outlawed Gulen network as well as separate espionage charges related to anti-government protests in 2013, the agency added.