US pastor Andrew Brunson appealed his arrest in Turkey on Wednesday, October 3.
The 50-year old pastor is treated by Turkey as a terrorism suspect and is currently under house arrest in Izmir. He was arrested in December 2016, accused of links with the Philadelphia-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, as well as the Kurdish PKK group. If convicted, he faces a 35-year sentence.
Until July 2018, Brunson was held in jail, moving into house arrest for health reasons.
This is the fourth time the pastor’s legal team petition courts for pastor’s release. This time the petition of Turkey’s Constitutional Court carries the weight of considerable diplomatic pressure from Washington.
Turkey’s Constitutional Court is due to respond next Friday, October 12.
A rejection would be final. But, that would also escalate the diplomatic standoff between Ankara and Washington. His lawyer, Ismail Cem Halavurt, argues that his client cannot destroy evidence or leave the country and there is no reason he should be detained.
The US has imposed trade sanctions on Turkey amid a rapidly accelerating economic crisis. In August, Washington doubled tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminium imports.
In July 2018 US President Donald Trump attempted to broker a deal, securing the release Ebru Ozkan, a Turkish citizen arrested in Israel on charges of funding Hamas. However, Turkey merely moved the pastor from jail to house arrest, The Times of Israel report.
US diplomats view Brunson’s arrest as a reaction to Washington’s support for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria, a group that is believed to be associated with PKK.
Addressing the UN General Assembly last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made clear that the US government expects Brunson’s immediate release (“last month”). Washington has made clear there will be no negotiation, economic or diplomatic, before Brunson’s release.
President Donald Trump often refers to Brunson as “hostage.”
In 2017 President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for the exchange of a “preacher for a preacher,” demanding the extradition of the Philadelphia based cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Last year, there were rumours of a prisoner exchange swap with Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian businessman arrested in Manhattan in March 2016 for conspiracy to evade international sanctions against Iran. The banker was essentially for using his business network in Turkey to launder Iranian money. US Diplomats have called him “Tehran’s man in Turkey.”
The US has never accepted such an exchange, not least because Washington refuses to treat Brunson as equivalent to a government agent.