Turkish courts release detainees but reject US pastor's appeal

A second appeal to release an American pastor held in Turkey was rejected Wednesday, his lawyer said, even a...

Posted: Aug 15, 2018 9:35 PM
Updated: Aug 15, 2018 9:35 PM

A second appeal to release an American pastor held in Turkey was rejected Wednesday, his lawyer said, even as Turkish courts ordered the release of two Greek soldiers and a senior human rights official.

Amnesty International said it was "overjoyed" by the news that its chairman in Turkey, Taner Kılıç, was set to be freed later Wednesday by an Istanbul court after being held in detention for over a year.

Andrew Brunson

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The Greek soldiers, who had been detained earlier this year and reportedly accused of espionage, were freed on bail Tuesday pending trial, Turkish state news agency Anadolu reported. They flew home on Wednesday, according to Reuters news agency.

The case of Andrew Brunson, an American evangelical pastor whom Turkey accuses of helping to plot a 2016 coup attempt against the Turkish President, has rapidly soured relations between Washington and Ankara, which have announced a series of retaliatory tariffs.

US officials maintain there is no credible evidence against Brunson -- who has been held for almost two years -- and the Trump administration has negotiated for weeks to secure his release.

Brunson's lawyer, Ismail Cem Halavurt, told CNN on Wednesday that an appeal for Brunson's full release had been rejected. He was released to house arrest last month pending his ongoing trial.

"This was my second appeal that was rejected. I am planning to appeal again in 15 to 20 days, thinking there might be a new evidence in the file or there might be a new outcome of talks," the lawyer said.

The rejection of the appeal is subject to a routine review by the Izmir Supreme Court, according to Anadolu. The Supreme Court can either affirm the lower court's decision or order it to reconsider the decision.

Turkey on Wednesday intensified its clash with the United States, announcing heavy new tariffs on some American products including cars, alcohol and tobacco. A day earlier, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for a boycott of US electronics products.

The Trump administration announced plans last week to double US tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum from Turkey.

Brunson was formally indicted in March on charges of espionage and having links to terrorist organizations. The charges against him include supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party as well as the movement of the US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, which Turkey says orchestrated the failed coup attempt.

Brunson, who faces up to 35 years in prison if convicted, has always maintained his innocence. His trial is set to resume in October.

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) says that the charges are not legitimate and that Brunson was arrested primarily because of his Christian faith. US officials, including former US Ambassador to Turkey John R. Bass, similarly said the accusations have no merit.

US National Security Advisor John Bolton met with the Turkish ambassador to the US on Monday, the latest in a series of meetings between high level administration officials and Turkish officials as they try to resolve the impasse over Brunson. An administration official said the Monday meeting, which took place at the Turkish ambassador's request, yielded no progress.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Tuesday in a statement to CNN that the two men discussed "Turkey's continued detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson and the state of the US-Turkey relationship."

Amnesty: Steely determination

Andrew Gardner, a Turkey researcher for Amnesty International, tweeted that the rights group was expecting Kılıç's release by Wednesday evening, following a decision by a court in Istanbul.

"Whilst we rejoice at this decision, our celebrations will only truly begin when he is safely back at home in the arms of his wife and daughters," Amnesty said in a statement.

"But beneath the smiles of joy and relief there will be sorrow, anger and a steely determination. Sorrow for all the things Taner has missed during his cruel incarceration. Anger that the baseless charges against him and the Istanbul 10 have not been dropped. And determination to continue our fight for human rights in Turkey and for the release of all those human rights defenders, journalists and others who have been unjustly jailed in the vicious crackdown."

Kılıç and 10 other human rights activists, including Amnesty International Turkey's director, İdil Eser, went on trial in October accused of aiding groups that Turkey describes as "armed terrorist organizations."

'New day for Greek-Turkish relations'

Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos welcomed the two Greek soldiers, named as Angelos Mitretodis and Dimitros Kouklatzis, as they returned to Greek soil on Wednesday, according to Reuters.

"On behalf of the Prime Minister (Alexis Tsipras), the government, and also the Greek people, we welcome them back home and I hope that their release today, on such an important day, will mark a new day for Greek-Turkish relations," he was quoted as saying.

"We can live together, and we can live in peace, to the advantage of both our nations."

According to Anadolu, the two soldiers claimed they had gotten lost and crossed the border into Turkey by accident.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker tweeted Tuesday that he was delighted by the news of the soldiers' imminent release and that Turkey had "nothing to fear" from its European neighbors.

He added: "The EU will remain engaged in this strategic partnership. We want to see a democratic, stable & prosperous Turkey."

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