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New Witnesses Emerge Against American Pastor Brunson, As US Expects Release

Two more ‘anonymous witnesses’ have surfaced in the trial of American pastor Andrew Brunson, who is currently under house arrest in Turkey on “espionage” charges and caused a recent diplomatic crisis between the two countries, according to a Tuesday report by Hurriyet, while the U.S. government and Brunson’s lawyer have high hopes for his release on October 12.

Brunson was arrested by the Turkish police on December 9, 2016 in relation to his alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Gulen movement, dubbed by the Turkish government as “Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETO)” and accused of being behind the July 15 military coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The detention of the evangelical pastor came as part of a massive wave of arrests around the country in the wake of the failed coup attempt.

Hurriyet reported that two more anonymous witnesses have surfaced in the lawsuit against Brunson. Previously unknown testimonies by two new witnesses, whose code names are “Sword” and “Dagger“, has gone into the case file, the report says.

The witnesses testified on June 21 at the Terrorism and Organized Crimes Department of the Izmir Chief Prosecutor’s Office.

In their testimony, Sword told the prosecutors about some missionary activities at an art gallery in Turkey’s southwestern town of Didim, where they claimed a group that included Brunson’s wife Norine Brunson targeted “Assyrians, Armenians looking like Kurds, Alevis and low-income Kurds.”

Sword asserted that the group he met aimed at polarizing the etnic minorities in the country.

The basis of the case against Brunson was built on testimonies given by another anonymous witness, known as “Prayer“.

On the other hand, Cem Halavurt, a lawyer representing Brunson, told Deutsche Welle on Wednesday that he was not expecting the pastor to be acquitted, however he believed his house arrest and ban on leaving the country would be lifted on Friday.

Noting that there are so many parameters regarding Brunson’s possible release, Halavurt said “The sanctions [imposed on Turkey by the U.S.] will have influence on such a decision. Because the country has been damaged due to these sanctions. But we cannot consider this issue sorted out just because sanctions were introduced. At the end of the day, dialogue is needed in order to solve this. It seems like a better way to solve it through dialogue.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently told the media that he believed Brunson would be released in his next hearing, which is scheduled for October 12.

Meanwhile, NBC news reported on Thursday that Turkey has reached a “secret deal” with the U.S. government for releasing the North Carolina pastor after Friday’s hearing.

Brunson is facing a total of 35 years in prison, 15 years for “committing crimes on behalf of terrorist organizations” and 20 years for “spying”. He was moved to house arrest on the grounds of “ill health” on July 25, following growing pressure from U.S. President Donald J. Trump.

Relations between the United States and Turkey have been shaken and the Turkish lira has taken a beating over Brunson.

President Trump doubled tariffs on Turkish aluminum and steel over Brunson’s detention, with Ankara responding in kind.

Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for a quarter-century, belongs to an evangelical Protestant church and has become a cause celebre for conservative U.S. Christians, a core base for Trump.

Erdogan had suggested making a deal for Brunson’s release, such as trading him for Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Turkish Islamic cleric whom Erdogan accuses of backing the coup.

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