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U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson goes on trial in Turkey, denies 'illegal activity' Featured

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U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson goes on trial in Turkey, denies 'illegal activity'

The United States has repeatedly demanded Brunson's release.

In March, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Brunson's wife during a trip to Turkey to visit President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

A senior U.S. official told NBC News: "We are following this case closely, and since his arrest, we have visited Mr. Brunson regularly. We believe that Turkey is a state of law, and we have faith in the Turkish people's commitment to justice."

Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina is expected to attend part of the trial.

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After visiting Brunson in prison in March, Tillis said that "Brunson is being used as a political pawn by some elements of the Turkish government."

In September, Erdogan said that Turkey would send Brunson back to the United States if Washington carried extradited Gulen.

"Give him [Gulen] to us," Erdogan said. "Then we will try him [Brunson] and give him to you."

Washington said it did not receive sufficient evidence showing Gulen's connection to the coup attempt.

Halavurt said he expects his client to be released later on Monday over what he called "very weak" accusations, but added that recent cases have shown that may not happen.

"This is a special, delicate trial and if we look at other trials that have been held in this last period, we see that some people have been condemned without enough evidence, so it's a risk we have to consider," he added.

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Since the failed coup,Turkey has jailed over 50,000 people including journalists, academics and judges. The purges have led to widespread criticism of the country's authoritarian president.

Soner Tufan, a spokesperson of the Association of Protestant Churches and who attended Brunson's church, said Brunson was not connected to any political organizations.

"He's not guilty, he's not a spy, he's not working for CIA or other kind of organization," Tufan said. "He's just a [pastor]."

Several other U.S. citizens are being detained in Turkey, including NASA scientist Serkan Golge, who was sentenced to over seven years in prison on terrorism charges.

The State Department said it was deeply concerned by Golge's conviction.

Read more https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/trial-u-s-pastor-facing-35-years-prison-set-start-n866076

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