ANKARA, Turkey — The lawyer for a US pastor at the center of a spat between NATO allies Turkey and the United States petitioned Turkey’s highest court on Wednesday seeking his release from house arrest.
Andrew Craig Brunson, 50, who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, was arrested in December 2016 on espionage and terror-related charges. The pastor, who rejects the charges, had been jailed until he was released to home detention on July 25 for health reasons. He faces up to 35 years in prison if he is convicted on both counts.
US President Donald Trump has demanded Brunson’s release. Amid the conflict, Trump in August doubled tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum imports, which helped deepen a Turkish currency crisis. Turkey’s government has repeatedly called on Washington to respect Turkey’s judicial process.
Lawyer Ismail Cem Halavurt told The Associated Press he filed a Constitutional Court appeal following lower courts’ refusal to free Brunson and to lift a travel ban against him.
Halavurt argued that the evangelical pastor has been unjustly held for almost two years and that there is no risk of him tampering with any evidence.
“There is no reasonable or acceptable legal reason for his freedom to be limited in such a way,” Halavurt argued in the petition. “There is no possibility for the defendant to destroy evidence.”
It could take the Constitutional Court several months to reach a decision on the case.
The next hearing in Brunson’s trial is on October 12 near the city of Izmir, where Brunson — originally from Black Mountain, North Carolina — led the Izmir Resurrection Church.
He was detained in the aftermath of a failed 2016 coup for allegedly supporting outlawed Kurdish rebels and the network led by US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. Turkey blames Gulen for the failed coup attempt.
Trump in August said he thought he had a deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to gain Brunson’s release after he asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to free a Turkish citizen held for smuggling funds to Hamas.
“I got that person out for him. I expect him to let this very innocent and wonderful man and great father and great Christian out of Turkey,” Trump told the Reuters news agency at the time.
According to a report in July, Trump phoned Netanyahu from Scotland on July 14 and asked the Israeli leader to release Ebru Ozkan, a Turkish citizen accused of smuggling objects, including perfume and a phone charger, as well as $500 into Israel and then the West Bank in the service of members of the Hamas terror group. She was charged on four separate counts.
Trump thought that in exchange for Ozkan’s release on July 15, Turkey would free pastor Andrew Brunson.
However, rather than free the jailed pastor, a Turkish court ordered him released to house arrest.