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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 20 August 2018

Who is Pastor Andrew Brunson?

The nearly two-year detention of 50-year-old American pastor Andrew Brunson has escalated into a major diplomatic rift between Nato allies Turkey and the United States of America.

The US citizen has lived in Turkey for the past 23 years and is the pastor of the small Presbyterian Izmir Dirilis (Resurrection) church on country’s Aegean coast.

The father of three has been incarcerated in Turkish prison since October 7, 2016, when he was summoned to an interview with local police when he applied for his visa renewal, the United States Government’s Commission on International Religious Freedom reported.

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More on Pastor Andrew Brunson:

Turks refuse to back down in diplomatic spat with Trump team

US sanctions Turkey over Pastor Brunson detention

Turkish court rejects US pastor's appeal

Trump tweets support for American pastor on trial in Turkey

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Court documents from December 9, 2016, show that Mr Brunson was charged with “membership in an armed terrorist organization”. The commission reported that he was accused of having links to the Gulen Movement and later the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party.

The US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, once a close ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is accused by the Turkish state of being behind the failed military coup in July 2016.

Accusations of harbouring links to the now outlawed Gulen Movement have been levelled against tens of thousands of Turkish public sector workers, soldiers and officials who have been dismissed from posts or arrested in the wake of the coup.

The Economist Magazine reported that Mr Brunson’s wife Norine was briefly arrested at the same time, but released after 13 days.

Norine Brunson (L), wife of US pastor Andrew Brunson who is detained in Turkey for over a year on terror charges, leaves after the trial of her husband, in Aliaga, north of Izmir, on July 18, 2018. Andrew Brunson, head of a small Protestant church in the western city of Izmir, has been in detention since October 2016. Turkish prosecutors accuse Brunson of links to a group led by US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen -- who Ankara says was behind a failed 2016 coup -- and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). / AFP / OZAN KOSE
Norine Brunson as she leaves the court house after a trial session of her husband in Aliaga, north of Izmir, on July 18, 2018. AFP

The American commission says that after Mr Brunson’s arrest, the Turkish state denied him visits from his parishioners who brought food, clothes and water. It initially tried to deny him access for US consulate staff and his lawyers.

A February 2017 letter signed by 78 members of the US Congress to Mr Erdogan said: “There appears to be no evidence to substantiate the charges against him for membership in an armed terrorist organization."

Then in September that year, Mr Erdogan suggested that the US could swap Mr Brunson for Gulen, who still lives in exile in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania.

Ms Brunson has led the campaign for her husband’s release and met Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in March 2017 to discuss the case.

The state-run Anadolu news agency reported in August 2017 that prosecutors submitted news evidence of the charges against Mr Brunson and the case against him went ahead. There was no indication of the nature of the evidence used against the pastor. He is also accused of espionage.

On July 18, 2018, US President Donald Trump became personally and very publically involved. He tweeted at Mr Erdogan calling for Brunson's release, describing him as a “wonderful Christian husband and father”, saying his detention was a "total disgrace”.

Mr Trump first threatened sanctions on Turkey in another tweet on July 26, just a day after Turkey moved Mr Brunson from prison to house arrest.

People react as US Pastor Andrew Craig Brunson (unseen) arrives at his house on July 25, 2018 in Izmir. Turkey on July 15, 2018 moved from jail to house arrest US pastor Andrew Brunson who has spent almost two years imprisoned on terror-related charges, in a controversial case that has ratcheted up tensions with the United States. Andrew Brunson, who ran a protestant church in the Aegean city of Izmir, was first detained in October 2016 and had remained in prison in Turkey ever since. / AFP / -
People react as US Pastor Andrew Brunson is moved from prison to house arrest. AFP
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