Jailed American pastor faces additional charges in Turkey
A Turkish court on Thursday added three new charges against imprisoned American pastor Andrew Brunson, who was initially jailed in October 2016 for alleged connections to the Gulen movement. The Izmir 2nd Criminal Court of Peace now accuses Brunson of acquiring secret political and military information, attempting to destroy constitutional order, and trying to overthrow the Turkish Parliament. The pro-government publication Daily Sabah reported that Brunson was transferred to a maximum-security prison and could face up to four consecutive life sentences. “I am a defender of Jesus Christ,” Brunson said during court proceedings. “I am a religious man who builds a church and does it in the knowledge of the state. I will never support any Islamic movement.” Turkish officials arrested Brunson and his wife, Norine, on Oct. 7, 2016, in a roundup following the unsuccessful overthrow of the government last year, which authorities accused the Gulen movement of plotting. Officials released Norine Brunson on Oct. 19, but her husband has remained in custody. Brunson has lived in Turkey for 23 years and served as pastor of Izmir Resurrection Church. In March, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Norine Brunson during his visit to Turkey and reportedly discussed the case with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. At the presentation of the State Department’s religious freedom report earlier this month, Tillerson said the United States continues to advocate for Brunson’s release. “Pastor Brunson has not been forgotten,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said at a Thursday press briefing. “The safety and security of Americans is one of our top priorities here at the State Department.”
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