Tags: andrew brunson | turkey | pastor | hostage | diplomatic negotiations

Pressure Builds for Turkey's Erdogan to Liberate Pastor Brunson

Pressure Builds for Turkey's Erdogan to Liberate Pastor Brunson
American pastor Andrew Brunson (DHA-Depo/AP)

Thursday, 24 May 2018 08:28 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Tensions continue to rise between Turkey and the United States over the prolonged imprisonment of American pastor Andrew Brunson.

The North Carolina clergyman faces what most Western observers believe to be trumped-up charges of espionage and "committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member." Spying and "seeking to overthrow the Turkish government" are also among his list of charges.

Brunson, 50, has been incarcerated for over 18 months following his October 2016 arrest. A recent hearing, a 10-hour mockery of justice, did not permit any defense witnesses to speak. Brunson's trial date was delayed until July.

If convicted, Brunson faces up to what amounts to a life sentence – 35 years in one of Turkey's notoriously brutal prisons. And the campaign to win his freedom continues to gain momentum:

  • Top-level U.S. officials, including President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, have called for Pastor Brunson's release.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently expressed his concern regarding the ongoing detention of American citizens, including Pastor Brunson, in Turkey.
  • A bipartisan group of 66 U.S. senators penned an open letter to President Erdogan in April, declaring the indictment "an absurd collection of anonymous accusations, flights of fantasy, and random character assassination."
  • A May 7 press release, following Brunson's latest hearing, from the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom stated USCIRF "believes firmly in the innocence of Pastor Brunson," adding: "The truth is that this case is part of a larger decline in personal freedoms, including religious freedom and human rights, that we are witnessing in Turkey in recent years. We are looking to the Turkish judiciary to uphold Pastor Brunson's innocence."
  • For the second time in two years, a bipartisan trio of U.S. senators introduced a measure April 26 to block a shipment of F-35A aircraft to Turkey.

One sponsor of that bill, Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., explained, "The Turkish government . . . hold an innocent American pastor, Andrew Brunson, in prison to use him as a pawn in political negotiations.

"The United States does not reward hostage-taking of American citizens; such action instead will be met with the kind of punitive measures this bill would enact," he said.

Brunson stands accused of being affiliated with the outlawed Gulen Movement, the "terrorist" group Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames for a failed coup attempt against his government.

President Erdogan has expressed his intention Brunson be traded for Fetullah Gulen – a Muslim cleric who resides in the United States. Erdogan and his increasingly radicalized Islamist party have accused Gulen, a former ally, of trying to overthrow the government in the abortive 2016 coup.

As tensions over Pastor Brunson's imprisonment have intensified, so has widespread support for his cause among American Christians. Numerous churches are participating in focused prayers for the pastor and his family. Prayer vigils continue, encouraged by social media posts.

After Brunson's 10-hour hearing May 6, Journalist Mindy Belz offered a moving and encouraging report in World Magazine.

She first described the courtroom scene in which family, friends and supporters of Pastor Brunson were required to sit at the very rear of a vast 600-seat auditorium, virtually out of the accused's sight.

"Then, at about 12:30 the jumbo screens suddenly went dark, a technical glitch forcing the judges to stop proceedings," Belz wrote.

"Brunson turned and rose from his chair, against the rules, looking across the long room for his wife Norine and others in the audience.

"[Brunson's pastor, Richard] White rose too, raised his hand and mouthed, "We love you."

"Brunson did not know White would be there, and he began to cry, raising one hand toward the Americans and placing the other over his heart, mouthing in return, 'Thank you for coming.'

"Soon the others cried too, as they exchanged greetings and White continued to speak to Brunson.

"The technical difficulty lasted five minutes, 'an amazing moment everyone noticed,'" White said later. "To be a visible encouragement to Andrew for even five minutes had been one of my specific prayers in going to Turkey."

Meanwhile, on the larger stage of international politics, how will Turkey's hostage-taking scenario play out?

It appears tough political actions by U.S. officials, accompanied by persistent prayers, are Pastor Andrew Brunson's best hope.

By all objective accounts, he is an innocent American Christian being held captive by a radical and thuggish Islamist regime.

May God help him.

Lela Gilbert is an internationally recognized expert on religious persecution, an award-winning writer, and an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute who lived in Jerusalem for over a decade. Her book "Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner" received wide critical acclaim. She is also co-author of "Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians," and "Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion." Follow her on Twitter @lelagilbert. For more from her Faith a Freedom blog, Click Here.

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The prolonged imprisonment of American pastor Andrew Brunson has raised tensions between Turkey and the United States, Lela Gilbert writes for Newsmax.
andrew brunson, turkey, pastor, hostage, diplomatic negotiations
Thursday, 24 May 2018 08:28 PM
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