ALIAGA - A Turkish court on Monday ruled to keep US pastor Andrew Brunson in jail after the first hearing of his trial on terror-related charges, an AFP correspondent said.

The judge said that the ruling was based on evidence given by witnesses in the case and the risk that Brunson might flee. The next hearing in the case was set for May 7.

Earlier, the American Christian pastor who has spent the last one and a half years in jail in Turkey strongly rejected terror-related charges on Monday 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.

Brunson - wearing a black suit, speaking in fluent Turkish and at one point bursting into tears - 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.

“I want the whole truth to be revealed. I reject all the accusations in the indictment. I haven’t been involved in any illegal activity,” Brunson told the court.

“I haven’t done anything against Turkey. On the contrary, I love Turkey. I have been praying for Turkey for 25 years,” added Brunson, who moved to the country in 1993 and opened his Izmir church in 2010.

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 a 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.

The Brunson case has further hiked tensions between NATO allies Turkey and the United States, with US President Donald Trump raising the issue in talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Relations are already strained over American backing for a Kurdish militia in Syria despised by Ankara and the jailing of two employees at American missions in Turkey.