The Trump administration is intensifying its efforts to improve relations between Turkey and the US to ensure the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson ahead of his first court hearing on April 18, The Wall Street Journal wrote on Wednesday.
Brunson, who ran a church in the western city of Izmir for 23 years, was arrested in October 2016 and has been jailed for 18 months awaiting trial. He is charged with supporting and carrying out activities for the faith-based Gülen movement, accused by the Turkish government of masterminding a July 2016 military coup and faces 35 years in prison if convicted.
According to The Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum, the former WSJ reporter in Turkey, Brunson’s case has made him a cause célèbre among Christian activists, and he is being represented by the conservative American Center for Law and Justice, whose chief counsel is one of Trump’s personal lawyers, Jay Sekulow.
The Trump administration has also been pressing US lawmakers to prevent the implementation of a measure that would bar Turkish officials linked to Brunson’s detention from entering the United States, said the WSJ.
According to The Journal, prosecutors filed a 62-page indictment accusing Brunson of espionage and working to convert Muslims to Christianity.
Brunson will make his first appearance in court in this month.
Since November 2017, US prosecutors have dropped charges against 11 of the 15 members of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s security detail who were indicted for beating peaceful protesters in Washington last year. According to officials, President Trump brought up the issue of Pastor Brunson during a recent telephone call with President Erdoğan, the WSJ said. The newspaper added that then-US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had mentioned to Erdoğan during a meeting in February that the charges against his security detail had been dropped.
(Ahval news website with Turkish Minute)