A decision by a Turkish court to send American pastor Andrew Brunson back to prison yet again is drawing fire from advocates who have been trying to free him for a year and a half.
"The government of Turkey continues to make a mockery of justice in its treatment of Pastor Brunson," said Kristina Arriaga, the vice chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent monitor of religious persecution established by Congress.
A recent series of court hearings in Turkey for Brunson ended with a decision to send him back to jail until another hearing scheduled Oct. 12.
He's been "unjustly detained," the commission said, since Oct. 7, 2016, on "false terrorism and espionage related charges."
Arriaga attended the most recent hearings.
"I was hoping to see the judge order his complete release and put an end to the miscarriage of justice that Pastor Brunson’s entire case represents. Turkish authorities still have not provided one good reason for depriving Pastor Brunson of his liberties. 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."
The Turkish court arranged for "former church members" to testify against Brunson with "vague, unsubstantiated accusations."
The commission explained: "After having lived and worked in Turkey for over 22 years, Pastor Brunson was initially detained almost two years ago and accused of membership in an armed terrorist organization. On March 13th of this year, Turkish prosecutors indicted Pastor Brunson on terrorism and espionage related charges, seeking a sentence of up to 35 years’ imprisonment. His first hearing took place on April 16 and his second hearing took place on May 7."
President Trump and Vice President Pence have called for Brunson's release.
Arriaga was granted access to Brunson last year in Kiriklar Prison in Izmir, Turkey, and along with USCIRF Vice Chairman Sandra Jolley were the first outside of family, legal counsel and U.S. Embassy officials to visit him.
The American Center for Law and Justice has been advocating for Brunson.
"Pastor Andrew is innocent. Yet he's being accused of 'Christianization' as a crime by the Turkish regime. This loving father and husband has been unjustly imprisoned for more than 21 months, and now this travesty could continue for another three months," the organization said Wednesday.
"This mockery of justice – bogus charges, hearsay testimony from 'secret' witnesses, and intolerable delays must end," ACLJ said. "We've recently received Turkey's response from the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention reviewing Pastor Andrew's case, and our reply is due in just days."
WND recently reported the U.S. Senate was looking at imposing a serious penalty -- blocking the sale of American F-35 fighters to Turkey -- if the Muslim-majority nation, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, continues to refuse to cooperate.
The ACLJ said the Senate is reviewing Section 1269 of the National Defense Authorization Act.
If Turkey continues to hold Brunson, the provision "would effectively require the U.S. Department of Defense to remove Turkey from the F-35 program. This would deny Turkey access to the U.S.-built, state-of-the-art fighter jet – a move that would significantly curtail the modernization of Turkey's air force," the ACLJ said.
Turkey currently hopes to buy 100 of the planes.
"This kind of partnership makes strategic sense when the purchasing country is behaving like an ally of the U.S. and actively assisting with the global effort to defeat terrorism. It does not make sense when the purchasing country is behaving with hostility and imprisoning this innocent American for political reasons," the ACLJ explained.
The ACLJ earlier asked government leaders from around the world to pressure Turkey to release Brunson.
President Trump has called for Brunson's release several times, tweeting the pastor should "be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs."