A Presbyterian pastor from North Carolina faces up to 35 years in Turkish prison for charges he asserts are untrue. Rev. Andrew Brunson, who has led a small congregation in Izmir, Turkey, for the past two decades, was arrested in October 2016 and held without charges.
Seventeen months after the pastor’s arrest, a formal indictment, accepted by the Izmir 2nd Criminal Court, was released to Brunson and his lawyer after the 62-page document was leaked illegally to the Turkish media.
Brunson is now scheduled to appear before a Turkish criminal court April 6 on espionage and terrorism-related charges.
The U.S. government and Brunson supporters say the charges are unfounded and some believe Brunson is being used in a politically motivated maneuver to force the U.S. to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blamed for instigating an unsuccessful 2016 coup attempt.
On March 17, Anadolu Agency reported Brunson faces 15 years for crimes committed in the name of Gulen's group and the PKK (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê or Kurdish Workers’ Party) and another 20 years for obtaining state secrets for political and military spying purposes.
Commenting on the indictment, the two vice chairs of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Sandra Jolley and Kristina Arriaga, said: “USCIRF urges President Trump and others in the administration to redouble their ongoing efforts to secure Pastor Brunson’s release. No stone should be left unturned in our efforts on behalf of this unjustly imprisoned American. We call again for his immediate release and, if this is not forthcoming, for the administration and Congress to impose targeted sanctions against those involved in this miscarriage of justice.”
According to Christianity Today, “Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had hinted about a trade last year, saying ’Give him (Gulen) to us, and we will try (Brunson) and return him.’”
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