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ICC Note: Imprisoned American Pastor Andrew Brunson defended himself for hours in fluent Turkish during his first trial after over 550 days in prison. His indictment was released just weeks before the trial and contained ridiculous charges that were supported by secret witnesses. After the trial he was transferred to solitary confinement, which lasted for only three days. He is now in Buca Prison where he is waiting for his second hearing on May 7th.

04/26/2018 Turkey (World Watch Monitor) –   Just one prisoner, slightly built, came through a side door, escorted on either side by armed gendarmerie soldiers, walking him past rows and rows of empty seats. Dressed in a dark suit and white shirt, he glanced up at the impressive state-of-the-art courtroom, built to accommodate 650 people. Its walls up to the high ceiling were ringed with security cameras, overlooking dozens of microphoned desks positioned for teams of defence lawyers. Once a basketball court, the arena had been renovated into a gigantic courtroom 15 months earlier, near Turkey’s high-security Aliaga Sakran Prison for a particular purpose: to house large-scale criminal court hearings against the thousands of Turkish citizens accused of supporting a deadly coup attempt in July 2016 to overthrow the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

But on 16 April, US Protestant pastor Andrew Brunson was the lone defendant on trial before the Second Criminal Court of Izmir, Turkey’s third largest city, on the Aegean coast.

After 23 years of public Christian ministry in Turkey, the pastor of Izmir’s small Resurrection Church was about to stand trial, apparently inexplicably, for alleged collaboration with Turkey’s two worst enemies. The first, the FETO network of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, is accused by Ankara of masterminding the deadly but failed 2016 coup. The second, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), has waged a decades-long armed insurgency against the Turkish government.

Brunson had first been put behind bars, without formal charges, on 7 October, 2016. Scores of headlines had appeared in the Turkish media, calling him everything from a “terrorist” priest to a CIA spy, but the legal file against him was sealed, even against his Turkish lawyer.

Only when his indictment was finally released, six weeks before his trial, had Brunson learned he was being charged formally with terrorism and espionage, calling for combined prison terms of 35 years.

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