ALIAGA, Turkey - An American pastor went on trial in Turkey on terror-related charges after spending the last one-and-a-half years behind bars, in a case that has increased friction between Ankara and Washington.
Andrew Brunson, who ran a protestant church in the western city of Izmir, was detained by Turkish authorities in October 2016 and then remanded in custody. If convicted, he risks up to 35 years in jail.
Brunson, wearing a white shirt and a black suit, was present in court in the town of Aliaga north of Izmir for the hearing, an AFP correspondent said.
In an indication of the importance of the case for Washington, also in court were Sam Brownback, the US ambassador at large for religious freedoms, and Senator Thom Tillis.
Turkish prosecutors have charged Brunson with engaging in activities on behalf of the group led by Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara says is behind the failed 2016 coup, and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
Both are banned by Turkey as terror groups. Brunson is also accused of espionage for political or military purposes.
If convicted, he faces two separate terms of 15 years and 20 years in prison, his lawyer Cem Halavurt told AFP.
However, the charges appear lighter than those outlined in the original indictment published on March 13, in which Brunson was accused of being a member of Gulen's group and risked life imprisonment if convicted.
The latest indictment explicitly states he is not charged with being a member of Gulen's group or the PKK.
"He is both nervous but also excited because it is the first time he will appear before a judge. He has expectations and a hope," Halavurt told AFP ahead of the hearing.