US President Donald Trump has voiced support for an American Christian pastor Andrew Brunson, on trial in Turkey on terror-related charges, in a case that has increased friction between Ankara and Washington.
"Pastor Andrew Brunson, a fine gentleman and Christian leader in the United States, is on trial and being persecuted in Turkey for no reason," Trump tweeted.
"They call him a Spy, but I am more a Spy than he is. Hopefully he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!"
Brunson, a 50-year-old evangelical pastor, faces up to 35 years in prison. He has been the pastor of Izmir Resurrection Church, serving a small Protestant congregation in Turkey's third largest city.
A court ruled on April 16 to keep Brunson in custody after the first hearing, deeming him to be a flight risk.
The State Department has said Brunson's case was being watched closely by "the entire U.S. government.
On September 28, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called on Washington to extradite U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, whose extradition Ankara has repeatedly sought to face charges over the coup attempt, in exchange for the release of Brunson.
Meanwhile, ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy and spokesperson Mahir Ünal criticized Trump’s tweet about the pastor.
“We got used to Trump’s tweets. Turkey is a state of law. Of course, we will respect the ruling. The one to make the judgement about the pastor is not Trump. The judge will make a decision over this. It won’t be right to make a comment during the judicial process,” Ünal said.
Brunson's indictment accuses him of working both with Gülen's network and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group which has waged a decades-long armed conflict in Turkey. He is also accused of espionage for political or military purposes.