(By Oren Dorell, USA Today). Turkey will consider speeding up the trial for American pastor Andrew Brunson, swept up in a crackdown after an attempted military coup last July, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Thursday.
“What we can do at this stage is accelerate the trial” for Andrew Brunson, who was detained on Oct. 7 for allegedly threatening national security, Yildirim told a group of American journalists visiting Turkey’s capital. “As you will appreciate, judiciary matters are not directly controlled by us.”
Brunson, who has lived in Turkey with his family for 23 years, has yet to be provided evidence to support the charge, said CeCe Heil, a lawyer for the American Center for Law and Justice, which is assisting with his legal defense. The North Carolina native is pastor of Izmir Resurrection Church in Turkey.
When asked about Brunson, Yildirim expressed frustration that the United States has not extradited to Turkey exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused by the government here of orchestrating the coup attempt. Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, has denied any involvement in the uprising.
The Obama administration did not turn Gulen over to Turkish authorities, saying he must go through a judicial process and Turkey must provide clear evidence of his involvement in the coup plot.
“I’m not establishing a connection between the two cases, but such an incident of a large scale was not taken seriously by the Obama administration,” Yildirim said, speaking through a translator. “They stalled for time, yet we had hundreds killed and thousands injured” in the coup attempt.
In a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the law center representing Brunson said Turkey’s arrest of tens of thousands of suspected coup sympathizers “swept up innocent religious minorities, especially Christians, in an ever-widening dragnet.”
“Here we have a NATO ally and they pride themselves for having the rule of law and religious freedom,” Heil said.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wrote a letter signed by 36 other senators and 41 members of the House of Representatives urging Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to consider Brunson’s case. Brunson’s treatment “places significant strain not only on him and his family, but also on the robust bilateral relationship between the United States and Turkey,” Corker wrote.