Turkey keeps Pastor Andrew Brunson in jail as he awaits second hearing

FILE PHOTO: Andrew Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina, U.S. who has been in jail in Turkey since December 2016, is seen in this undated picture taken in Izmir, Turkey. | Depo Photos via REUTERS

A Turkish court has ended the first hearing on the case of Pastor Andrew Brunson by opting to keep him in jail as he awaits the second hearing, which is scheduled to take place in the next three weeks.

Brunson, who is accused of having links with a terrorist organization, took the stand on Monday and attested that he has not committed anything illegal in Turkey.

"I've never done something against Turkey. I love Turkey. I've been praying for Turkey for 25 years. I want truth to come out. I do not accept the charges mentioned in the indictment. I was never involved in any illegal activities," he said, according to Reuters.

The pastor has led a small church in Turkey for more than two decades, but he was detained in 2016 over allegations that he supported the attempted coup against the government.

The indictment against Brunson claims that he was working with Fethullah Gulen's FETO network as well as the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

At the end of the hearing, the court ordered Brunson back to prison. However, instead of sending him back to the cell where he was held before the trial, he was sent to a facility known for overcrowding, according to American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow.

The hearing was attended by Brunson's wife, Norine, and U.S. Ambassador for Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback.

ACLJ Senior Counsel Cece Heil argued that the Turkish government has not presented any specific evidence to link Brunson to any crime. She contended that false testimonies and witnesses are being used to build a case against Brunson.

"According to Mr. Cem Halavurt (Turkish attorney representing Pastor Brunson) Turkey has resorted to false testimony by secret witnesses, stating in the recent interrogation report that, 'This is one of those operations that we all have witnessed in many investigations within the Turkish judicial system with fake digital data and directed statements by secret witnesses. We clearly see that a similar operation has already been started against my client,'" she told CBN News.

Washington has urged the Turkish government to release Brunson, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has suggested that the pastor can be freed if the U.S. extradites Gulen, the cleric who has been blamed for instigating the failed 2016 coup.

Gulen, a legal permanent resident of the U.S., has denied being linked to the coup, and the U.S. judiciary has stressed that there is not enough credible evidence against the cleric to extradite him back to Turkey.