The lawyer for the American pastor being held by NATO ally Turkey on unsubstantiated espionage and terror-related charges petitioned Turkey’s highest court on Wednesday, seeking his release from house arrest.
Andrew Craig Brunson, 50, who is backed by the White House in his contention the charges have been manufactured for political purposes, was arrested in December 2016 after serving more than two decades in Turkey.
Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the Trump administration on Monday of using Brunson as a pretext for sanctions, charging the pastor has “dark ties to terror groups, Bloomberg reported.
Facing up to 35 years in prison, Brunson is due on court Oct. 12 on charges related to the failed 2016 coup against Erdogan. He was jailed until his release to home detention on July 25 for health reasons.
His lawyer, Ismail Cem Halavurt, filed a Constitutional Court appeal Wednesday after lower courts refused to free him and lift a travel ban, the Associated Press reported.
“There is no reasonable or acceptable legal reason for his freedom to be limited in such a way,” Halavurt argued in the petition. “There is no possibility for the defendant destroying evidence.”
The AP said the Constitutional Court could take several months to reach a decision.
The hearing next week will take place near the city of Izmir, where Brunson pastored the Izmir Resurrection Church.
He was been accused of backing outlawed Kurdish rebels and the network led by U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. Turkey blames Gulen for the failed coup attempt against Erodogan, who has responded by bolstering the powers of the presidency and cracking down on dissent.
Erodgan: ‘Determined to fight twisted attitude’
On Monday, Erdogan accused the Trump administration of using Brunson for political purposes, Bloomberg reported.
“We are determined to fight this twisted attitude that has attempted to impose sanctions on our country by using a pastor who has dark ties to terror groups as the pretext,” Erdogan said.
The U.S. has sanctioned Turkish government ministers in response to their treatment of Brunson. Turkey has retaliated with tariffs.
At the U.N. General Assembly last week, Trump and Erdogan had a brief, informal meeting that did not delve into substantial issues dividing the NATO allies.
The U.S. continues to refuse Ankara’s demands that the cleric Gulen be extradited.
In his speech to parliament Monday, however, Erdogan left open the door for reconciliation
“I believe the U.S. administration will correct its wrong view toward our country sooner or later,” he said. “We hope to solve the matters between us as soon as possible and develop ties with the U.S. in politics and the economy once again, in line with the spirit of being strategic partners.”
In August, as WND reported, the White House, explaining it doesn’t pay ransom for hostages, rejected an offer by Turkey to free Brunson in exchange for forgiveness of billions of dollars in U.S. fines on a Turkish bank.