An American pastor in Turkey has been imprisoned on trumped-up charges and is, according to Christian human-rights advocates, in “grave danger” of becoming a casualty of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s brutal crackdown on religious minorities and dissidents in the wake of a failed coup five months ago.
Pastor Andrew Brunson, 48, is a U.S. citizen from Black Mountain, North Carolina, who has been ministering in Turkey for 23 years.
He has raised his family there and loves the Turkish people.
But on Oct. 7 he was tricked into appearing at a government office where he was told he would be given a long-awaited permanent residency card. Instead he was detained and “falsely accused of membership in an armed terrorist organization,” reports the American Center for Law and Justice.
His wife Norine was released on Oct. 19 and given an extended permit to remain in the country. But Andrew Brunson was arrested and held since Oct. 20 at the Harmandali Detention Center on the northern edge of Izmir.
He was transferred overnight on Dec. 8 to a counter-terrorism center, then brought before an Izmir court the next day for interrogation.
Part of his more than 70-day ordeal in the Turkish prison system has been spent in solitary confinement. He has been denied a Bible and had his watch, phone and eye-glasses confiscated. Turkey’s Islamic regime has also denied Pastor Andrew access to his Turkish attorney.
The ACLJ, which has started several petitions for imprisoned Christians around the world, said on Wednesday it is representing Brunson’s family as they seek his release.
“We are representing the family of an American pastor who is facing grave danger in a Turkish prison where he is being held simply because of his Christian beliefs,” said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the ACLJ.
“The government of Turkey – led by an Islamic party – has begun increased crackdowns on Christians, and Pastor Andrew, if convicted, may face years in prison based on extremely serious – and false – charges,” Sekulow added. “We are launching a global campaign to call attention to his plight demanding that Turkey – a NATO member – release Pastor Andrew without delay.”
Silence from Obama
President Obama, meanwhile, has been mum on the imprisonment. Turkey is a U.S. and NATO ally yet Obama has done nothing to seek his release, said Joel Richardson, a Christian author/filmmaker who has traveled to Turkey on mission trips and has many contacts in the country.
“As the Obama Administration expels its final gasp bitterly trying to damage the incoming Trump presidency, they have been entirely silent concerning the deeply alarming and unjust imprisonment of American Pastor Andrew Brunson by the government of Turkey,” Richardson told WND.
Although President Obama has repeatedly named Turkish President Erdogan as one of his “best friends” among international leaders, he has yet to make a single public statement demanding Brunson’s release.
“Instead, the Obama administration is squandering its final weeks in office suddenly making much noise about Russian interference in the U.S. elections – although the Obama administration knew about these things for nearly the last two years,” Richardson told WND.
Since the failed Turkish coup this summer, the Erdogan government has detained well over 100,000 political opponents, journalists, Kurdish politicians and many Christian leaders, Richardson said.
“In the case of evangelical Pastor Brunson, his detainment has been done entirely without legitimate charges. Christian workers in the region say that Turkey claims to have an unnamed source who says he overheard Brunson nearly a decade ago making a comment, which the government is now using to charge him with being a threat to national security,” Richardson reports. “He is presently being detained indefinitely.”
Brunson and his wife, who have three children now studying in the U.S., have lived in Turkey for the past 23 years.
The current Turkish regime is now behaving more like the Iranian ayatollahs than the secular NATO ally it once was, says Richardson, who is urging President-elect Trump to take stronger action on day-one of his presidency.
“It is now far past high time that,in clear contrast to the failed administration of the past eight years, the incoming Trump administration dramatically shift its stance toward this emerging dictatorship in Turkey,” Richardson said. “Let this shift begin with the U.S. government, in no uncertain terms, demanding that Turkey release Pastor Brunson immediately and apologize for his unjust detainment.”
Failure to do so should set the tone for the American and NATO relationship to Turkey for the next eight years, he said.
“Meanwhile, the global body of Christ must continue to pray for Pastor Brunson’s swift release.”
Below is a synopsis of Pastor Andrew’s case from the ACLJ website:
Pastor Andrew Brunson – a U.S. citizen from Black Mountain, North Carolina – was summoned to the local police station in Izmir, Turkey on the morning of October 7, 2016. He believed he would be receiving a long-awaited permanent residence card. Pastor Brunson has been living in Turkey for 23 years, running a Christian church with the full knowledge of local authorities.
Upon arriving at the station, he was informed he was being deported based on being a “threat to national security,” a common excuse for deportation in Turkey. It became clear that he was being arrested and would be detained until deportation. He was fingerprinted, searched, and had his phone, pen, etc. taken away. He was denied a Bible. But instead of being deported, he was held with no charges for 63 days, during which time he was denied access to his Turkish attorney. He was placed in solitary confinement for part of this time, with his glasses and watch confiscated.
Then on December 8th, after being detained for 63 days, things took a dire turn. In the middle of the night, Pastor Andrew was taken to a counter terrorism center in Izmir and then on to court. He was questioned and has been falsely charged with “membership in an armed terrorist organization.” The charging documents state no “evidence has been gathered” against him. A Turkish judge had the option to deport Pastor Andrew, release him on weekly sign-ins at the local police station, or imprison him. The judge chose to remand Pastor Andrew to prison.
Pastor Andrew has quietly and faithfully pastored churches in Turkey for over 23 years. He has raised his family in Turkey. He has dedicated his life in service to the people of Turkey, who he loves. He has never been a member of an armed terrorist organization. He is awaiting trial, and if convicted under these false charges, could face years of imprisonment, even though his Turkish attorney cannot review his case file. He is in great danger.
We have mobilized our international offices, working with the U.S. State Department to free this U.S. pastor once and for all.
As we approach Christmas – a season of hope and promise – we know that people around the world will stand with Pastor Andrew – will be Pastor Andrew’s voice – supporting his fight for freedom and will join us in urging Turkey to release him immediately.