by WorldTribune Staff, July 19, 2018
U.S. President Donald Trump is pressing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to “do something” to bring about the release of an American pastor jailed in Turkey on terrorism and spying charges.
A Turkish court on July 18 dashed the hopes of Pastor Andrew Brunson’s immediate release.
The court ordered the 50-year-old pastor, who has spent two years in a Turkish prison, to remain behind bars until at least his next hearing on Oct. 12.
“A total disgrace that Turkey will not release a respected U.S. Pastor, Andrew Brunson, from prison. He has been held hostage far too long,” Trump said on Twitter.
Erdogan “should do something to free this wonderful Christian husband & father. He has done nothing wrong,” Trump said.
Brunson, a Presbyterian preacher from North Carolina, was detained during a wave of imprisonments after the failed 2016 coup in Turkey.
Brunson was accused of abetting the Gulen movement – under the leadership of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Islamic scholar and cleric in exile in the United States. Erdogan blames Gulen for the 2016 coup attempt and many observers of the case believe Erdogan is holding Brunson in detention until the U.S. accedes to his demand to extradite Gulen.
The court on July 18 heard testimony from members of Brunson’s church who made “vague, unsubstantiated accusations” against Brunson, reported World Watch Monitor. When the judge asked how Brunson would respond to the testimony of the prosecution’s witnesses, he said, “My faith teaches me to forgive, so I forgive those who testified against me.”
Bill Campbell, a North Carolina pastor whose church belongs to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the same denomination as Brunson’s church, was among several supporters of the pastor who attended the trial.
“As usual, there was much spurious testimony against Andrew,” Campbell told EPConnection. “Andrew’s testimony was absolutely powerful. He presented the gospel with confidence and defended himself with boldness.”
Freedom House’s Nate Schenkkan called the Turkish court’s decision a “cruel, political decision, just like his imprisonment.”
“Case study in the absurdity of the present Turkish justice system,” Schenkkan tweeted. “Brunson is charged with being part of a conspiracy of evangelicals, Mormons, & Jehovah’s Witnesses embedded among American service personnel in Turkey who conspired to divide the Turkish state on behalf of the PKK and Gulen movement. It would be a farce if it weren’t so serious.”
“Keeping him in prison is a political decision,” Schenkkan continued. “… Letting him out would have been a simple, cost-free way for the Turkish government to show it was concerned about the relationship with the United States. Holding him for at least 3 more months is a new low.”
In February, 78 members of Congress sent a letter to Erdogan seeking Brunson’s release. Earlier this month, 98 European parliamentarians sent a letter to Istanbul condemning Brunson’s “wrongful imprisonment” and calling for his release.