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US Pastor on Trial in Turkey for Alleged Terror Ties, Espionage


FILE - In this undated file photo, Andrew Brunson, an American pastor, stands in Izmir, Turkey. The trial of an American pastor imprisoned in Turkey, whose case is part of a quagmire of tense relations between Washington and Ankara, began Monday.

An American pastor imprisoned in Turkey since December 2016 went on trial Monday, facing up to 35 years in prison.

Andrew Brunson is facing charges of "committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member" and "espionage". He was arrested over a year ago for alleged connections to both an outlawed Kurdish insurgent group and followers of exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey has branded a terrorist.

Brunson has denied all allegations against him. The United States has repeatedly asked Turkey to release him, including a demand from U.S. President Donald Trump to "expeditiously" return the pastor.

In September, Turkey said it would release Brunson if the United States extradited Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.

"They say 'give us the pastor'. You have a preacher [Gulen] there. Give him to us, and we will try [Brunson] and give him back," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a televised speech.

Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for 23 years, and his wife, Norine, were arrested for alleged immigration violations in October 2016. She was released, while his charges have been upgraded to supporting Gulen's network, which Turkey has labeled a terrorist organization.

The couple ran a Christian church in the Aegean city of Izmir.

A decree last August gave Erdogan the power to extradite foreigners in exchange for Turkish prisoners abroad in "situations where it is necessary for national security or in the country's interests.” Turkey has repeatedly asked the United States to extradite Pennsylvania-based Gulen, accusing him of organizing the failed 2016 military coup. Gulen denies any role in the failed coup.

U.S. relations with Turkey have soured recently over a number of issues, including what the U.S. sees as Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian rule.

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