A U.S. pastor on Monday denied allegations of links to a group accused of orchestrating a failed military coup in Turkey, as he went on trial in a case that has fuelled strains in relations between Ankara and Washington.
Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina living in Turkey for 23 years, was been indicted on charges of helping the group that Turkey holds responsible for the failed 2016 coup against President Tayyip Erdogan.
“I’ve never done something against Turkey. I love Turkey. I’ve been praying for Turkey for 25 years.
“I want truth to come out,” Andrew Brunson told the court in the western Turkish town of Aliaga, north of the Aegean city of Izmir.
“I do not accept the charges mentioned in the indictment. I was never involved in any illegal activities,” said Brunson, making his defence in Turkish.
His wife was in the courtroom, as were North Carolina senator Thom Tillis and U.S. envoy for religious freedom Sam Brownback.
Brunson’s trial is one of several legal cases which have hurt ties between Turkey and the U.S.
The two countries are also at odds over Washington’s support for a Kurdish militia in northern Syria that Turkey considers a terrorist organisation.
Washington has called for Brunson’s release while Erdogan suggested in 2017 the pastor’s fate could be linked to that of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose extradition Ankara has repeatedly sought to face charges over the coup attempt.