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The Turkish court refuses appeals to release the imprisoned American pastor




People pass by the Izmir Resurrection Church, a small Protestant church where Andrew Brunson served as Pastor in Izmir, Western Turkey on April 1
5 (Lefteris Pitarakis / AP)

A Turkish Court rejected appeals Wednesday to release Andrew Brunson, an American pastor accused of terrorist charges whose prosecution and prolonged detention have become a hotbed of increasingly bitter relations between the US and Turkey.

Brunson, from North Carolina, was charged with espionage and collusion with terrorist organizations, including Kurdish militants. Brunson's supporters and independent analysts have called the allegations groundless, saying that Turkey is using it as a bargaining chip to win concessions from the United States.

He has been detained by Turkish authorities for nearly two years. Brunson's supporters said they had hopes that he would be last after Wednesday's hearing for signs of thawing in the US-Turkey relationship and after a meeting between President Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at NATO's Brussels meeting Week is released.

On Wednesday, after a state attorney Brunson was remanded in custody, a judge set the next court date for October 12.

After the hearing, Philip Kosnett, the US Chargé d'Affaires in Turkey, said he was "disappointed."

"I've read the indictment, I've attended three hearings, I do not think there's any indication that Pastor Brunson is guilty of any criminal or terrorist activity," he said. The case has trumped Trump's penchant for flattering confrontation with some of the world's leading politicians, as he has sharply criticized President Vladimir Putin in the United States during a summit between the two leaders in Helsinki.

Trump has maintained friendly relations with Erdogan, although relations between the two countries are strained, mocking Erdogan as increasingly unpredictable and autocratic allies and calling for sanctions against Turkey.

But during last week's NATO summit in Brussels, Trump emphasized Erdogan among other NATO leaders, saying that "he does things right," said a person present during the exchange.

The US and Turkey have been arguing about the war strategy in Syria, Turkey's plans to buy a Russian missile defense system, and the imprisonment of several American citizens in Turkey. Erdogan has also urged the Trump administration to extradite Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania. Turkish authorities accuse Gülen of orchestrating a failed coup in Turkey in July 2016. Gülen has denied any participation.

Erdogan suggested in a speech last year that Gülen could act against Brunson, a Christian missionary who had lived in Turkey for several decades prior to his arrest in October 2016. After Brunson's first hearing in April, Trump teased the case and said that the pastor "stood trial" and was persecuted in Turkey for no reason.

"You call him a spy, but I'm more of a spy than he is," Trump wrote.


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