US pastor held in Turkey prepared to go to European court: lawyer

Case to be taken to European Court of Human Rights if Andrew Brunson is not released by Turkish judiciary, lawyer says.

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    Brunson's detention in Turkey has triggered a diplomatic meltdown between Washington and Ankara [AFP]
    Brunson's detention in Turkey has triggered a diplomatic meltdown between Washington and Ankara [AFP]

    A US pastor under house arrest in Turkey is prepared take his case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) unless the Turkish judiciary sets him free, his lawyer told Al Jazeera.

    The case against Andrew Brunson, who is being held on terrorism charges, has triggered a full-blown diplomatic dispute between Washington and Ankara with no end in sight. 

    A Turkish court in the western province of Izmir on August 17 rejected an appeal to release Brunson, upholding a judgment taken by a lower court earlier in the week.

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    Ismail Cem Halavurt, Brunson's lawyer, said that they would go to the Constitutional Court, the highest court in Turkey, within weeks as the last effort to find a domestic remedy to Brunson's situation.

    "We will receive a formal notification on the latest verdict by the criminal court in Izmir soon. Then we have a month to appeal it at the Constitutional Court," Halavurt said, adding that Brunson's "right to liberty and security" as well as "right to travel" have been breached.

    "Unless the Constitutional Court frees him, we will have to take the case to the ECHR as the domestic legal remedies we can seek will be exhausted," he added.

    Turkey is one of 47 signatories of the European Convention on Human Rights that established the supranational human rights court, which makes binding verdicts.

    Arrested in 2016

    A protestant pastor, Brunson, who lived in Turkey over two decades with his family, was arrested in 2016 in a government crackdown following a failed coup bid. He faces 35 years in prison on espionage and violence charges.

    Brunson was in prison before he was allowed to be kept under house arrest on July 25. He also has a court-ordered travel ban imposed on him. 

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    Halavurt said that the case has been increasingly politicised because of the eroding diplomatic climate between Washington and Ankara.

    "It is very hard for the Turkish judiciary to act impartial in such a politicised case. Therefore, we are prepared to take it to the relevant international judicial authority, the ECHR," he told Al Jazeera.

    US and Turkish officials have been trading barbs over the Brunson case, which included remarks from US President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

    Turkish officials have stressed that the Turkish courts were independent, including the ones hearing the case of Brunson.

    Erdogan said earlier in August that his country would not make compromises regarding the independence of the judiciary, in a reference to the Brunson issue.

    Talking to Al Jazeera, Ahmet Berat Conker, an MP with Erdogan's Justice and Development Party, called on the US to respect the judicial process for the pastor.

    "The independent Turkish judiciary will make a verdict on the case without bowing to any pressures," said Conker, who is also a member of parliament's foreign affairs committee.

    Tariff war

    The NATO allies have recently imposed increased tariffs on each other as the diplomatic dispute spilled over to the economic arena.

    Washington announced a doubling of steel and aluminium tariffs on Turkey on August 10, with Ankara hitting back five days later by doubling tariffs on certain US imports, such as passenger cars, alcohol and tobacco.

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    "It is a big mistake to link the future of mutual relations to a judicial judgment. The approach of the Trump administration to the issue is wrong," Conker told Al Jazeera.

    "The two countries should discuss the issues they have through diplomatic channels, and independent from judicial processes."

    The Turkish lira has taken a dive since the beginning of the year, and with an acceding speed in the month of August. The currency lost more than 40 percent of its value against the US dollar this year, amid macroeconomic concerns and the diplomatic showdown between Washington and Ankara.

    The Turkish government has demanded extradition of Fethullah Gulen, an exiled religious leader based in the US and wanted in Turkey. Ankara accuses Gulen of masterminding the July 15 coup attempt that killed about 300 people.

    Erdogan has suggested in public addresses that an exchange of Gulen for Brunson would be possible.

    Follow Umut Uras on Twitter: @Um_Uras

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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