The Turkish government has accused jailed American pastor Andrew Brunson of delivering special sermons to Kurdish people and having links to the Fethullah Gülen movement, which has been blamed for the failed coup attempt in July 2016.
In December, Brunson was charged with membership in the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETO), a movement headed by U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen.
According to Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, Turkish prosecutors are accusing Brunson of delivering sermons to Kurds with a "special purpose" at the İzmir Resurrection Church, where he has served as a pastor for 23 years.
Brunson had stated that he had delivered sermons to all kinds of people, including Kurds, but he noted that he does not speak Kurdish.
He admitted that he had allowed a Kurdish man to deliver a sermon, but he said that he also shared the podium with eight different people without making any discrimination.
The pastor said that the masses in Arabic and Kurdish were conducted at the church, but he denies attending those services. He also maintained that he does not engage in politics while he is in church.
Brunson reportedly said at a church meeting that it would be beneficial to engage FETO in a dialogue, but he denied having contact with any of its members. However, the pastor stated during his hearing that he did not support interfaith dialogue and cooperation.
On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump had urged Turkey to release Brunson during his face-to-face meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The Turkish president, on the other hand, demanded the U.S. hand over Gulen during his joint press conference with Trump.
"As I have previously done so, I have been frankly communicating our expectations with regard to the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization, which we have notified our friends of their involvement in the failed coup of July the 15th in Turkey," Erdogan said in a statement, as translated by the White House.
Following the calls for Brunson's release, the pro-Erdogan Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak published an article on its website denouncing the pastor for allegedly supporting Gulen and referring to him as the "FETO Chaplain."
"The fact that the U.S., which has not taken any steps forward on Gulen despite the insistent demands of Turkey, put Pastor Brunson on the agenda at high-level meetings begs the question: why is the priest important for the USA?" the newspaper asked.
Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence had reportedly raised the issue of Brunson's incarceration at least three times during their meeting with Erdogan.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), an organization that has advocated for Brunson's release, commended Trump for bringing up the issue with the Turkish president.
"This is exactly what we asked the President to do and is a major sign of significant progress toward bringing Pastor Andrew home," the ACLJ said in a statement.