American Pastor’s Imprisonment in Turkey Will Continue Till New Hearing on October 12
Experts claim the charges against the American pastor are "ludicrous."
Hopes for Pastor Andrew Brunson’s release were dashed Wednesday, when a Turkish court pushed his next hearing to October 12.
The American citizen from North Carolina has lived in Turkey for 23 years. A profile on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) website says he pastors an evangelical Presbyterian church in Izmir.
In October 2016, Turkish authorities took Brunson into custody after he applied to renew his visa. Later he was charged with “membership in an armed terrorist organization.” He is also charged with espionage.
According to a report appearing in World Magazine Tuesday, the charges against Brunson are “a muddled collection of conspiracy theories spinning mundane details of the pastor’s life into terrorist acts.”
“In the indictment, the Turkish prosecutor relies on ludicrous accusations from three secret witnesses and a convicted murderer to allege that the pastor carried out felonies,” write Aykan Erdemir and Merve Tahiroglu. Erdemir is a former member of Turkish Parliament. Tahiroglu is a research analyst. Both work for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
No Indication of Guilt, U.S. Official Says
Philip Kosnett is the U.S. charge d’affaires in Turkey. After Brunson’s hearing on Wednesday, he said: “I have read the indictment. I have attended three hearings. I don’t believe there is any indication that Pastor Brunson is guilty of any sort of criminal terrorist activity.”
“We have great faith in the commitment of the Turkish people to justice and will follow this case closely and hope that Pastor Brunson is reunited with his family soon,” he added.
“Turkish authorities still have not provided one good reason for depriving Pastor Brunson of his liberties,” said USCIRF Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga. “The Trump Administration and the Congress should continue to apply pressure, including using targeted sanctions against officials connected to this case, until Pastor Brunson is released.”
“Today I was hoping to see the judge order #PastorBrunson’s complete release and put an end to the miscarriage of justice…Turkish authorities still have not provided one good reason for depriving Pastor Brunson of his liberties.”
— Vice Chair @ArriagaKristina #Turkey pic.twitter.com/7qEXPWevBC
— USCIRF (@USCIRF) July 18, 2018
Brunson denies the charges brought against him. According to Turkey’s state-run media agency, he said during Wednesday’s hearing: “I believe in and support Turkey’s territorial integrity.” He also reportedly forgave the people who “lie and bear false witness against me.”
Many had hoped Wednesday’s hearing would result in Brunson’s release. It had seemed likely in light of President Donald Trump’s positive interactions with Turkish President Recep Erdogan at last week’s NATO summit.
During the summit, Trump reportedly said Erdogan “does things the right way.” Afterward Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., criticized Trump, referring to Brunson’s captivity. “President Erdogan has unjustly held an American, Dr. Andrew Brunson, in a Turkish prison for almost two years,” he tweeted. “Erdogan does NOT do things the right way and should be confronted — not commended — for his actions.”
President Erdogan has unjustly held an American, Dr. Andrew Brunson, in a Turkish prison for almost two years. Erdogan does NOT do things the right way and should be confronted – not commended – for his actions. https://t.co/Bx9MYkglGE
— Sen. James Lankford (@SenatorLankford) July 16, 2018
In April, the USCIRF released its annual report on religious freedom around the globe. The countries of most concern in the report commit “systematic, ongoing and egregious” religious freedom violations. It designated Turkey a “Tier 2” country, meaning it fulfills one or two of those elements.