One day after Congress advanced a bill to ban the sale of new fighter jets to Turkey, the NATO ally upgraded imprisoned pastor Andrew Brunson’s custody to house arrest.
Now, President Trump is further increasing pressure on Turkey to release the Christian minister, who has been accused of espionage without any evidence, warning in a tweet of sanctions.
“The United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being,” Trump tweeted.
“He is suffering greatly. This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!”
Brunson, 50, who has lived in Turkey since 1993, was arrested in October 2016. He later was charged, despite no evidence, of having links to Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish cleric that Ankara blames for the failed coup attempt in 2016. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison for “committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member” and an additional 20 years for “espionage.”
Vice President Mike Pence also called on Turkey to release Brunson.
“Brunson is an innocent man, there is no credible evidence against him,” Pence said
In the defense bill heading for a vote in the House and Senate, lawmakers propose banning delivery of fifth-generation F-35 fighter jets to Turkey. The legislation demands the release of Brunson as well as any other “U.S. citizens wrongfully or unlawfully detained in Turkey.”
The American Center for Law and Justice, which represents Brunson’s family, called the move Wednesday to house arrest “a critical first step that we believe will result in the freedom of Pastor Andrew so he can return to the United States and be reunited with his family.”
ACLJ said Trump “has played a critical role in securing the freedom of Pastor Andrew.”
“We have worked closely with the president on this matter and are grateful for his efforts. We look forward to the ultimate release of Pastor Andrew.”
A court in Izmir, Turkey has ordered Brunson to remain in custody until an Oct. 12 hearing.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent panel established by Congress, said Wednesday the move to house arrest is “not enough.” The commission recommended that if Turkey does not release Brunson, the Trump administration and Congress “should respond strongly and swiftly with targeted sanctions against the authorities responsible.”
“The Turkish government has deprived this innocent man of his due process rights and liberty for too long, and it must completely release him,” said Kristina Arriaga, USCIRF’s vice chairman.