The Turkish government, which has been moving away from its secularist roots in recent years, now considers sharing the Christian Gospel terroristic.
That’s according to the American Center for Law and Justice, which has been defending imprisoned American Christian pastor Andrew Brunson.
Brunson, arrested in late 2016, is being held without charges.
However, ACLJ lawyers this week revealed that a Turkish court approved an indictment against Brunson, which means progress toward a trial will speed up.
The group said that since the indictment has been approved, the prosecution phase of the case will now begin. After almost a year and a half in prison, Brunson has his first court date set for April 16.
“The case file is now finally open, and by the end of the week, we should have access to all of the alleged evidence,” ACLJ said.
The lawyers contend the 62 pages of claims are “wholly lacking merit.”
The government’s claim “provides no evidence regarding criminal action by Pastor Andrew, which comes as no surprise,” the group said.
“Pastor Andrew, who has lived in Turkey for 23 years, serving as pastor of the Izmir Resurrection Church, has maintained his innocence and has reiterated that he has been in Turkey for only one reason, to tell about Jesus Christ. Incredibly, the indictment now admits that Turkey considers sharing the Gospel an ‘act of terrorism.'”
ACLJ said it developing a defense to “those absurd and false charges,” working with Brunson’s Turkish attorney, the State Department and Sam Brownback, the ambassador at large for international religious freedom.
WND reported Turkish officials said they had lodged an indictment, then backed away from the claim.
ACLJ noted Brunson was arrested even though there was no crime. It suggested Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered him arrested to use as a political pawn to force the U.S. to return an exiled political opponent, Fethullah Gülen.
WND reported in February Brunson issued a message, distributed by ACLJ, asking for prayer and expressing discouragement.
Brunson wrote in a message to his wife: “I am very discouraged. Please have prayer for me. I love you – can’t handle the thought of growing old in this place, without you.”
In January, 24 members of the Council of Europe signed a document demanding Turkey release Brunson.
The written declaration criticizes Erdogan for using Brunson as “a bargaining chip” with the U.S. to extradite Gulen, whom Erdogan blames for the failed coup attempt in July 2016.
ACLJ said its international affiliate, the European Centre for Law and Justice, submitted a written question to the Council’s Committee of Ministers “with the argument that Turkey is violating its international commitments to respect and apply human rights within its territory.”
The question to the ministers was: “What do you intend to do to ensure that Turkey adheres to its European commitments and obligations. And what can you do to ensure the effective enjoyment of the rights enshrined in the European Convention by Pastor Brunson?”
Eventually, 24 members of the council – from Moldova, Sweden, Ukraine, Romania, Ireland, Armenia, Spain, San Marino, Poland, Serbia, United Kingdom, Luxembourg, Hungary, Netherlands and Croatia – signed a document stating Brunson has been held for more than 400 days, “without any reason, and in blatant violation of his rights.”
The ministers’ statement said: “He has lived under inhumane conditions and lost over 50 pounds. While no evidence had ever been set forth to substantiate any crime from him, the Turkish authorities have systematically denied the multiple appeals contesting his detention.”
Turkey, once held up as an example of a moderate Islam friendly to Western values, has been sliding backward in recent years. The latest crackdowns on Christianity signaled an acceleration of its return to Islamic Shariah law under the Erdogan regime.
For example, the country, which is 99 percent Muslim, recently seized ownership of 50 churches.
The last time Turkey was ruled by Shariah, under the Ottoman Empire, it slaughtered more than 1.5 million Christians of Greek, Armenian and Syrian descent.