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Now a case that's straining U.S. relations with Turkey. The Turkish government has arrested thousands following a coup attempt last year. An American Christian pastor seems to have been caught up in the crackdown. NPR's Michele Kelemen has his story.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Beth Herman says she's praying a lot these days. She has had no contact with her brother, Andrew Brunson, since he was arrested in Turkey last October.
BETH HERMAN: Andrew has been in Turkey for over 20 years, and he was there as a Christian pastor. And he's there also because he loves Turkey and the people of Turkey.
KELEMEN: The 48-year-old pastor was charged with being part of an armed terrorist group, an accusation Herman says is totally false. She says her brother is a peaceful man, an Evangelical Presbyterian who has led a church in the Turkish coastal city of Izmir.
HERMAN: My whole family and all our friends - many, many friends - have been praying very faithfully for him for a long time. And some of us also fasting intermittently for him because we know that God is with him. And God, you know, is strong and will see him through. And God loves him.
KELEMEN: Beth Herman spoke to NPR by phone from her home in North Carolina, along with CeCe Heil, a lawyer for the American Center for Law and Justice, which has been helping the family lobby for his release.
CECE HEIL: This past week, Pastor Brunson's wife received a personal letter from Vice President Pence, again acknowledging that Pastor Brunson's case is a high priority for the United States.
KELEMEN: Pence's office confirmed the letter, which says the vice president has taken a, quote, "deep, personal interest" in this case and has discussed it with senior Turkish officials. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Pastor Brunson's wife, Norine, when he was in Ankara last month. The Turkish foreign minister at that time told reporters that this was a legal case, not a political one. And he said the legal proceedings were initiated by a complaint from Brunson's interpreter. He didn't elaborate. State Department Spokesman Mark Toner says U.S. consular officials have been able to visit with Brunson on a regular basis.
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MARK TONER: We have asked Turkish officials to consider releasing Mr. Brunson from custody, subject to whatever judicial conditions or controls that may be appropriate, while his legal case is resolved. He's been in detention far too long.
KELEMEN: Lawyer CeCe Heil says this case is sealed and she has no access to the full charges or any other court documents. She speculates that he's a victim of a Turkish government crackdown in the wake of last year's coup attempt.
HEIL: So the only thing we can really just assume has happened is the failed coup attempt last July where President Erdogan started kind of sweeping up anyone who might be seen as a threat, that Pastor Brunson was caught up in that.
KELEMEN: She's hoping Turkey is not trying to use this case as a bargaining chip in an effort to win the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania. Ankara accuses the cleric of orchestrating last year's coup attempt. Supporters of Brunson say he and his church had no connection to Gulen. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.
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