Lawyers defending Andrew Brunson, the US pastor jailed in Turkey, have protested the treatment of his case by the court, expressing 'serious concerns' about the evidence presented by the prosecution, and opposing the refusal to release Brunson to house arrest.
Brunson has been jailed for the past 19 months, and after two Izmir court hearings now awaits a third on July 18. At the close of the second hearing Brunson's lawyer, Ismail Cem Halavurt, sharply criticised the 'outlandish' use of secret witnesses against Brunson, saying no real evidence against the pastor had been presented, according to World Watch Monitor.
Halavurt told the Deutsche Welle on Monday: 'This case cannot proceed by just relying on secret witnesses' testimony.
'Supporting evidence must come alongside these allegations. Our Supreme Court decisions regarding this are very plain: witness testimony claims are not sufficient to prolong a jailed person's detention. In spite of reminding the court of this repeatedly, [Brunson's detention] is being continued. This is not acceptable.'
Secret witnesses included one 'Serhat', who accused Brunson of plotting to establish a Kurdish Christian state, and smuggling US weapons to a militia in Syria through his 'missionary team'. Brunson was accused of collaborating with supporters of Fethullah Gülen, the Muslim cleric blamed for the failed 2016 coup against Turkey's President Erdogan. It's believed that Brunson has been detained as a bargaining chip to secure the release of Gülen from the US, where he is now based.
'There is not a single piece of evidence' for the allegation, Halavurt said. He protested the refusal to release Brunson, but said the necessary petitions would be filed to ensure that 'this illegal detention will be brought to an end. We will struggle to get Brunson set free.'
Brunson openly challenged Serhat's allegations, telling the court: "This witness gave not a single piece of evidence. He said, "I heard all this from second- or third-hand individuals."'
He added: 'I am helping refugees, and they say I'm aiding the PKK [The Kurdistan Workers' Party]. I am setting up a church, and they say I'm being supported by the Gülen network. But this is just verbal testimony from these witnesses. Where is the proof, the evidence?'
The presiding judge rebuked Brunson and said the court would determine what counted as evidence. Brunson also denied having seen or met any of the first three open witness brought forward by the prosecution.
The court further disappointed Brunson's defence team when it was revealed that the judicial panel had rejected seven of the 10 witnesses who had been selected to testify on behalf of Brunson at the next hearing, because the witnesses appear in the indictment against Brunson, listed as 'suspects' due to their association with the pastor.
Sandra Jolley, vice chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) – which has publicly advocated for Brunson's release – attended the trial, and afterwards told reporters: 'We leave the courthouse with serious concerns. Today's 11 hours of proceedings were dominated by wild conspiracies, tortured logic and secret witnesses, but no real evidence to speak of. Upon these rests a man's life.
'The truth is that this case is part of a larger decline in personal freedoms, including religious freedom and human rights, that we are witnessing in Turkey in recent years. We are looking to the Turkish judiciary to uphold Pastor Brunson's innocence.'