Turkish Court Denies Detained U.S. Pastor's Appeal for Release

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U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson escorted by Turkish police officers to his house in Izmir, July 25, 2018.
U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson escorted by Turkish police officers to his house in Izmir, July 25, 2018.Credit: AFP

A Turkish court has refused to release an American pastor at the center of an escalating diplomatic and trade spat between Washington and Ankara, with the U.S. warning of more sanctions.

On Friday, a higher court in the Aegean province of Izmir rejected both the appeal for Andrew Brunson's release from house arrest and the lifting of a travel ban against him, according to the ruling seen by dpa.

Authorities are still examining the evidence against Brunson, who is also a flight risk because he is a foreigner, the court said in its ruling.

The 50-year-old pastor, who is being tried on espionage and terrorism-related charges, was detained in October 2016 and arrested that December in the aftermath of a failed coup.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday said the United States was not going to take Brunson's detention "sitting down," a day after his Treasury chief said Washington could hit Ankara with further sanctions. 

"They should have given him back a long time ago, and Turkey has in my opinion acted very, very badly," Trump told reporters at the White House.

"So, we haven't seen the last of that. We are not going to take it sitting down. They can't take our people." 

On Wednesday, another court in Izmir denied his release, prompting his lawyer to file an appeal to the higher court for review.

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Ismail Cem Halavurt, Brunson's lawyer, told dpa before Friday's ruling that he would continue the appeals' process at various courts.

Brunson is accused of links to the movement of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric who lives in exile in the U.S. Ankara blames Gulen for a coup attempt by a faction of the military on July 15, 2016.

Brunson is also accused of having ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the European Union.

The pastor from the U.S. state of North Carolina, who served at a church in Izmir and has lived in Turkey for two decades, has denied all the charges.

After the pastor's trial started in April, US President Donald Trump said he believed Brunson "was being persecuted in Turkey for no reason."

When Brunson was moved to house arrest in July after spending about a year-and-a-half behind bars, the U.S. said it was "not enough" and demanded his full release.

Trump has repeatedly warned Turkey he would punish his NATO ally if Brunson was not released.

"Turkey has taken advantage of the United States for many years. They are now holding our wonderful Christian Pastor, who I must now ask to represent our Country as a great patriot hostage," the U.S. president tweeted late Thursday. 

"We will pay nothing for the release of an innocent man, but we are cutting back on Turkey!" Trump said.

With no end in sight to the row over the clergyman, the two countries have slapped sanctions on each other's ministers, as well as tariffs on imports. The impasse has also triggered a currency crisis in Turkey.

The U.S.-Turkey relationship was already frayed by the war in Syria, Turkey's decision to buy a Russian air defense system, the conviction in New York of a former employee of Turkish state lender Halkbank for violating U.S. sanctions, and efforts to block the delivery of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey

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