A witness testifying anonymously against Andrew Brunson, the US pastor accused of spying and terror-related charges in Turkey, claimed yesterday that Brunson helped Kurdish militants and aimed to create a Christian Kurdish state, the country's state-run news agency reported.
Brunson forcefully rejected the claims in the second session of his trial, saying that he never permitted 'politics to enter the church,' the Anadolu Agency reported.
The 50-year-old evangelical pastor from North Carolina faces up 35 years in prison in Turkey on charges of 'committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member' and 'espionage'.
Brunson denies any wrongdoing.
The pastor was arrested in the aftermath of a coup attempt in 2016 in Turkey for alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, as well as a network led by the US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is blamed by Turkey for the political unrest but denies any knowledge of the failed coup.
The AP news agency reported Anadolu as saying that a 'secret witness' – described as a former parishioner and codenamed 'Serhat' – testified via a long-distance system and claimed that Brunson helped Kurdish militants in various ways, including those fighting in Syria. He also claimed that a Syrian who converted to Christianity had helped Brunson.
Brunson emphatically rejected the claims.
Anadolu quoted Brunson as saying: 'These accusations are shameful and disgusting. There is not one photograph or tape recording praising the PKK at the [Izmir] Resurrection Church. Our church had several Turkish followers. Our doors were open to everyone. I strived to prevent politics entering the church.'
Brunson later said that he wanted to 'go home,' according to Hurriyet newspaper.
But the court adjourned the trial until July 18 and ruled that he remain in jail.
The case has strained ties between Turkey and the US. Donald Trump tweeted in Brunson's defence last month, saying: 'Pastor Andrew Brunson, a fine gentleman and Christian leader in the United States, is on trial and being persecuted in Turkey for no reason.'
The US president added: 'They call him a Spy, but I am more a Spy than he is. Hopefully he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!'
The US administration later warned Turkey that it was considering punitive 'consequences' if the country does not throw out the charges or acquit Brunson.
Sandra Jolley, the vice chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, attended court yesterday and said that the 11 hours of proceedings 'were dominated by wild conspiracies, tortured logic, and secret witnesses, but no real evidence to speak of'.
She added in a statement: 'Worse still, the judge's decision at the conclusion of today's hearing to dismiss all of the witnesses called by Pastor Brunson's defence without listening to a single minute of their testimony is simply unconscionable.
'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.'
Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for 23 years, served as pastor of Izmir Resurrection Church, a small Protestant congregation.
Meanwhile, the global Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) launched a call to prayer and fasting over the weekend in 'an effort to stand with and pray for the entire Brunson family'.