American pastor back in Turkey court for spying and terror trial

US pastor Andrew Brunson, center, sits inside a car as he arrives for his trial in Izmir, Turkey, early Friday, October 12. (DHA via AP)
Updated 12 October 2018
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American pastor back in Turkey court for spying and terror trial

  • The fourth hearing of the case against Andrew Brunson begins in a prison complex near the western city of Izmir
  • The pastor has been imprisoned for nearly two years

ALIAGA, Turkey: The trial of an American pastor at the heart of a diplomatic dispute between Turkey and the United States resumes Friday in Turkey, with observers waiting to see if authorities will release him amid threats of further US sanctions.
The fourth hearing of the case against Andrew Brunson begins in a prison complex near the western city of Izmir. He arrived in a secured convoy before daybreak.
The evangelical pastor is accused of terror-related charges and espionage, facing up to 35 years in jail if convicted.
Brunson, 50, who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, rejects the charges and strongly maintains his innocence. He is one of thousands caught up in a wide-scale government crackdown that followed a failed coup against the Turkish government in July 2016.
Prosecutors accuse Brunson of committing crimes on behalf of terror groups, linking him to outlawed Kurdish militants and a network led by a US-based Turkish cleric who is accused of orchestrating the coup attempt. The US maintains he is being held unjustly and has repeatedly called for his release.
On Thursday, a person involved in efforts to free Brunson told The Associated Press in Washington that the pastor could be released at the hearing. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because officials had not yet reached a final agreement on the release and it could still fall through.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters that the US is hopeful he will soon go free but said she was unaware of any agreement on his release.
The pastor, who is originally from Black Mountain, North Carolina, was imprisoned for nearly two years — detained in October 2016 and formally arrested in December that year — before being placed under house arrest on July 25 for health reasons.
The court’s decision failed to improve tensions between the two NATO allies. Washington slapped sanctions on two Turkish officials and doubled tariff on Turkish steel and aluminum imports. Those moves in August, coupled with concerns over the government’s economic management, helped trigger a Turkish currency crisis.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has resisted US demands for Brunson’s release, insisting that the courts are independent. But he had previously suggested a possible swap of Brunson and the Pennsylvania-resident Fethullah Gulen — the cleric accused of being behind the coup.
Brunson led a small congregation in the Izmir Resurrection Church. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, with representatives monitoring the trial, has listed him as a “prisoner of conscience.”
William Devlin, an evangelical pastor from New York spoke to reporters outside the prison, saying hundreds of thousands of Christians are praying for Brunson’s release.
Brunson’s lawyer took the case to Turkey’s highest court last week seeking his release from house arrest.


Istanbul summit aimed at avoiding new humanitarian disaster in Idlib

Updated 48 min 37 sec ago
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Istanbul summit aimed at avoiding new humanitarian disaster in Idlib

  • The event will focus on ‘harmonizing joint efforts for finding a lasting solution to the conflict’
  • Germany and France welcomed the Turkey-Russia deal on Idlib that had set Oct. 15 as the deadline for removing all radical groups from a demilitarized zone in the province

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to attend a critical four-way summit on Syria in Istanbul next Saturday. 

They will discuss recent developments in the war-torn country as well as projections for a political settlement.

Experts have underlined the importance of this summit in providing a strong push for key EU countries to work together with regional players to end the years-long conflict in Syria as it will gather the four countries’ leaders at the highest level.

The summit will focus on the recent developments in the opposition-held northwestern province of Idlib, and the parameters of a possible political settlement.

The ways for preventing a new refugee inflow from Idlib into Europe via Turkey, which is home to about 3.5 million Syrian residents, following a possible offensive by the Assad regime will also be raised as a topic that mainly concerns France and Germany and pushes them to work more closely with Turkey and Russia.

The summit will also aim at “harmonizing joint efforts for finding a lasting solution to the conflict,” presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin announced on Friday.

Germany and France welcomed the Turkey-Russia deal on Idlib that had set Oct. 15 as the deadline for removing all radical groups from a demilitarized zone in the province. Although the withdrawal of some opposition groups from the zone has not been accomplished in due time, Ankara and Moscow have agreed to extend the deadline for Idlib, which is still a strategic area where the opposition holds out.

“Turkey and Russia want the status quo for Idlib. Although the jihadists have not withdrawn from the demilitarized zone, Russia is turning a blind eye,” said Fabrice Balanche, an associate professor and research director at the University of Lyon II.

“Turkey will make some efforts to save face. Turkish proxies have withdrawn because Turkey pays wages, so they must obey, but for the jihadists it is more complicated,” he told Arab News.

According to Balanche, without the complicity of Turkey, the Syrian regime cannot take over the north of the country.

“In exchange, Turkey wants a buffer zone in the north, all along its border. The main objective is, of course, to eliminate the Syrian Kurdish YPG from the border as it has already done in Afrin. A secondary objective is to protect its opposition allies and the Turkmen minorities, many in the province of Idlib but also between Azaz and Jarablus,” he said.

But the summit also shows that these four countries need each other in the Syrian theater as each of them has stakes regarding the settlement of the crisis.

Emre Ersen, a Syria analyst at Marmara University in Istanbul, said the main goal of the summit is to provide a major diplomatic boost to the ongoing Astana and Sochi peace processes, which have so far been led mainly by Turkey, Russia and Iran.

“A second and maybe even more important goal is to include France and Germany in the reconstruction efforts in Syria once the civil war is over,” he told Arab News.

Considering the cost of the reconstruction, estimated at about $400 billion, Ankara, Moscow and Tehran are not ready to take this enormous financial burden without the financial support of the West, Ersen said.

“Both Paris and Berlin hope that Ankara’s ongoing efforts to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Idlib can be successful. If the settlement in Idlib does not work, everybody is aware that this may lead to a big refugee crisis for both Turkey and Europe once again,” he added.

Martina Fietz, deputy spokeswoman for the German government, told a news conference in Berlin that her country is also hopeful about the forthcoming summit’s potential contribution to the stabilization of Idlib’s de-escalation zone.

“Progress in the UN-led political process, in particular the commencement of the work of the constitutional commission, will be discussed,” she said.

The chief foreign policy advisers of the quartet have met in Istanbul in recent weeks to discuss the agenda of the summit.