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Turkey again refuses to release US pastor Andrew Brunson after second appeal

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, center, chairs the National Security Council meeting in Ankara, Turkey, on March 28, 2018. (Turkish Presidential Palace/Xinhua/Zuma Press/TNS) )
August 16, 2018

Turkey continues to resist urges from the United States to return a jailed U.S. pastor.

A Turkish court on Wednesday denied a second appeal to release U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson, and the case has been referred to a higher court, according to a report by Turkish news outlet YeniSafak.

Ismail Cem Halavurt, Brunson’s lawyer, filed the appeal on Tuesday to request the pastor’s release from house arrest, as well as removing his travel ban.

The 2nd Penal Court in Izmir denied the appeal, referring the case to a higher court.

Brunson was recently permitted to be removed from jail after 21 months and placed under house arrest over his ongoing “health problems.”

Brunson has been detained by Turkish authorities for two years. He was arrested and charged with spying for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) – the group said to be behind the July 2016 failed coup attempt.

Tens of thousands of arrests were made in the same police crackdown after the coup. Numerous Turkish-Americans, as well as Turkish employees of the U.S. Embassy, were also arrested.

The next hearing in Brunson’s trial will be on Oct. 12.

Tensions have risen between the U.S. and Turkey since the coup attempt and Brunson’s detention.

Turkey claims Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim preacher and leader of the FETO, is responsible for the coup. Turkish President Erdogan suggested that Brunson might be returned in exchange for Gulen.

The U.S. recently imposed sanctions on Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu and Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül for their refusal to release Brunson. The two officials are said to be responsible for “leading roles in the organizations responsible for the arrest and detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson.”

After months of consideration, U.S. lawmakers included a provision in the recently passed defense bill to delay the transfer of F-35s to Turkey over concerns regarding poor U.S.-Turkish relations.

Under the law, Turkey will not receive any F-35s until the completion of a Pentagon report on U.S.-Turkey relations within 90 days that will evaluate risks of Turkey acquiring a Russian S-400 missile defense system.

Turkey is a partner in the F-35 development program, serving as a major manufacturer and supplier of F-35 components. They received two F-35s in June, and were slated to purchase up to 100 of the aircraft.

The U.S. also doubled tariffs on steel and aluminum from Turkey over the poor relations. However, the U.S. continues to import approximately $1 billion in steel and aluminum from Turkey each year.