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I was used as a bargaining chip, pastor Brunson says

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Andrew Brunson, an American pastor who was jailed for two years in Turkey before he was released in 2018, has said that Turkey used him as a bargaining chip in its deals with the US, the Artı TV news outlet reported. 

Brunson was detained by Turkey in October 2016, three months before Donald Trump became US president. Turkey accused Brunson of spying and links to terrorist groups.

Amid increasing pressure by Trump as well as then-Vice President Mike Pence threatening Turkey with sanctions, Brunson was first moved from prison to house arrest in July 2018 and later released in October 2018.

The investigation launched into him was ill-founded, Brunson told Ezo Özer of Artı TV in an exclusive interview posted on YouTube on Wednesday, adding that efforts were made by the government to manufacture any grounds on which to base a criminal proceeding against him.

“They knowingly targeted me. Initially, there was nothing to use against me. I was accused first of human smuggling, then of Gülen links. Later, they said I had gone to Syria to support the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party]. Then they said I supported the Gezi Park protests. They used me as a bargaining chip,” Brunson said, speaking in Turkish. 

Brunson was sentenced to three years in prison on charges of aiding a terrorist organization due to his alleged links to the Gülen movement, the PKK and the People’s Protection Units (YPG).

The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU, while the Turkish government considers the Gülen movement and the YPG to be terrorist groups.

In its 124-page reasoned opinion, the court said Brunson had acted based on the “win-win” principle, collaborated with “FETÖ,” a term coined by the Turkish government to refer to the Gülen movement as a terrorist organization, got assistance from the group and aided the group although he wasn’t a part of it. Brunson was also accused of aiding the PKK and the YPG and imposing the views of these groups on churchgoers.

Brunson noted that he went to Turkey to spread the Christian faith and that the Turkish authorities were properly informed about his activities in the country.

“They knew all about our gatherings. Had I been really involved in the crime they accused me of, they would have arrested me long before,” he said, adding: “They bargained [with the US] behind the scenes. They made a couple of deals with the US, but their demands would change continuously. As a result, these deals would repeatedly be blown up.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan repeatedly demanded the extradition of cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom he accused of masterminding a coup attempt in July 2016, as a condition for Brunson’s release. Gülen denied having any role in the abortive putsch and called for an international investigation into it.

President Trump said there was “no deal” behind Brunson’s release but repeatedly thanked Erdoğan.

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