The trial of a North Carolina pastor facing up to 35 years in prison over terrorism charges is set to begin in Turkey on Monday, posing another obstacle to U.S. relations with its strategically important NATO ally.
Andrew Brunson — a 50-year-old evangelical pastor from the small town of Black Mountain, North Carolina — has spent the last 23 years living in Turkey, where he and his wife raised their daughter and two sons.
According to the American Center for Law and Justice, which is representing him in the United States, he was running the Resurrection Church in the western city of Izmir — where the trial will take place — and applying for permanent residency when he was detained in October 2016.
Brunson was arrested during the mass detentions and firings soon after a failed July 2016 coup attempt, initially on immigration violation charges.
He's now charged with connections to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Kurdish militant group which Turkey and the United States deem a terrorist organization, as well as links with the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara blames for carrying out the coup attempt.
The indictment also charges Brunson with revealing state secrets, alleging that he communicated with people who gathered details about gas and railway stations, information which would have strategic importance during a war or occupation.
The indictment states the charges are based on evidence obtained from Brunson's phone, as well as from witnesses given pseudonyms to mask their identity.