Trump tweets support for American pastor Andrew Brunson jailed in Turkey

President Trump has blasted the detention of an American pastor in Turkey, and said that he is “more a Spy than he is.”

Andrew Brunson, a 50-year-old Protestant preacher originally from North Carolina, has spent more than 20 as a missionary in the Turkish city of Izmir, though now faces a trial that could keep him behind bars for three decades.

He has been detained for 18 months amid allegations that he supported groups behind an unsuccessful 2016 coup that tried to topple the regime of an increasingly hard line Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“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 posted on Twitter late Tuesday.

“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 is one of thousands who were arrested after the failed coup, which Erdogan has blamed on an exiled elderly cleric who lives in a small town in the Poconos Mountains in Pennslyvania.

Turkey has labeled the cleric, Fetullah Gulen, as a terrorist and repeatedly asked the U.S. to extradite him, part of a decline in U.S.-Turkish relations that has included clashes between Erdogan’s bodyguards and protesters in Washington last year and Turkey a NATO ally, attacking U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria.

Erdogan has said that Brunson could be freed in exchange for Gulen, who denies any role in the coup, though U.S. officials have denied that there should be any sort of transaction in exchange or the pastor's freedom.

RELATED: The case of jailed pastor Andrew Brunson

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The case of jailed pastor Andrew Brunson
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The case of jailed pastor Andrew Brunson
This undated photo made available by the Dogan News Agency on March 13, 2018 shows Andrew Brunson, an American pastor, in Izmir. Andrew Brunson, an American pastor held in Turkey for one and a half years in a case that further strained relations between Ankara and Washington, is to go on trial on April 16 on terror-related charges. Brunson, who ran a church in the western city of Izmir, was detained by the Turkish authorities in October 2016 and then remanded in custody. He is charged in the indictment with carrying out activities on behalf of the group led by preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara says masterminded the failed coup in 2016, and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Both are banned by Turkey as terror groups. / AFP PHOTO / DHA / STR / Turkey OUT (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Cem Halavurt, the lawyer of jailed American pastor Andrew Brunson, speaks during an interview on April 15, 2018 in Izmir. American pastor Andrew Brunson, who ran a church in the western city of Izmir, will go on trial in Turkey on April 16, 2018, on terror-related charges after spending the last one-and-a-half years behind bars, in a case that has raised friction between Ankara and Washington. He is charged in the indictment with carrying out activities on behalf of the group led by preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara says masterminded the failed coup in 2016, and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Both are banned by Turkey as terror groups. / AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
Ismail Cem Halavurt (C), the lawyer of jailed US pastor Andrew Brunson, arrives for the trial of his client, held on charges of aiding terror groups, in Aliaga, north of Izmir, on April 16, 2018. An American pastor went on trial in Turkey on April 16 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 church in the western city of Izmir and was detained in October 2016, was present in court as the trial opened in the town of Aliaga north of Izmir. / AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
US Senetor Thom Tillis speaks to the press in front of the Aliaga court and prison complex, after the trial of US pastor Andrew Brunson, held on charges of aiding terror groups, in Aliaga, north of Izmir, on April 16, 2018. An American Christian pastor who has spent the last one and a half years in jail in Turkey strongly rejected terror-related charges on April 16, 2018 as his trial got underway, in a case that has raised tensions with Washington. Andrew Brunson, who ran a protestant church in the western city of Izmir, was detained by Turkish authorities in October 2016. If convicted, he risks up to 35 years in jail. / AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
Jailed US pastor Andrew Brunson's wife Norine Brunson leaves the Aliaga court and prison complex, after the trial of US pastor Andrew Brunson, held on charges of aiding terror groups, in Aliaga, north of Izmir, on April 16, 2018. An American Christian pastor who has spent the last one and a half years in jail in Turkey strongly rejected terror-related charges on April 16, 2018 as his trial got underway, in a case that has raised tensions with Washington. Andrew Brunson, who ran a protestant church in the western city of Izmir, was detained by Turkish authorities in October 2016. If convicted, he risks up to 35 years in jail. / AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
Cem Halavurt, the lawyer of jailed American pastor Andrew Brunson,leaves the Aliaga court and prison complex, after the trial of US pastor Andrew Brunson, held on charges of aiding terror groups, in Aliaga, north of Izmir, on April 16, 2018. An American Christian pastor who has spent the last one and a half years in jail in Turkey strongly rejected terror-related charges on April 16, 2018 as his trial got underway, in a case that has raised tensions with Washington. Andrew Brunson, who ran a protestant church in the western city of Izmir, was detained by Turkish authorities in October 2016. If convicted, he risks up to 35 years in jail. / AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
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Brunson has denied any involvement with the coup or with Kurdish separatists, saying that he is not interested in politics but in prayer.

Trump’s Twitter diplomacy came after a Turkish court, which could have let the American go to house arrest at the beginning of his trial this week, decided to keep him incarcerated.

Former Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, now a State Department ambassador for religious freedom, and North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis were both in Turkey for the beginning of the trial.

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