Article Jan 13, 2017

American pastor imprisoned in Turkey on terrorism-related charges

A pastor and North Carolina native is being held in Turkey on unsubstantiated charges of terrorism related activity.

After more than 20 years of serving as an evangelical missionary in Turkey, Andrew Brunson, 48, thought he was being summoned to receive a long-awaited permanent residence card. Instead, Brunson was notified that he was being deported based on being a “threat to national security.” He was held for 63 days while being denied access to an attorney—and even denied access to a Bible.

Brunson was then taken to a counter-terrorism center in Izmir and then taken to court, where he was accused of having ties to an American-based cleric, Fetullah Gulen, who is being blamed for a July coup attempt.

According to the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), an organization that is representing Brunson’s family, the Turkish court had the option to deport Pastor Brunson, release him with the condition that he sign-in with local authorities weekly, or imprison him. The judge decided to keep him in prison.

“The government of Turkey—led by an Islamic party—has begun increased crackdowns on Christians,” said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the ACLJ, “and Pastor Andrew, if convicted, may face years in prison based on extremely serious—and false—charges. We are launching a global campaign to call attention to his plight demanding that Turkey— a NATO member—release Pastor Andrew without delay.”

ERLC is also working to ensure that Pastor Brunson’s rights are protected. On January 4, 2017, ERLC president Russell Moore sent the following letter to Secretary of State John Kerry:

Dear Mr. Secretary:

I write to request that you take action on the case of Andrew Brunson - a Christian pastor who is a US citizen and who has been living in Turkey with his family for over two decades. It has been reported that he was first jailed in October and, more recently, inexplicably brought up on charges associated with terrorism. We are concerned that this case is in line with other situations in Turkey that have involved suppression and oppression of religious minorities.

For the past two years the Department of State's religious freedom report on Turkey notes that threats of violence and acts of vandalism continue against Christians and non-Sunni Muslims, as well as anti-Semitic propaganda targeting the Jewish community. As recently as December 9, 2016 the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe held a briefing titled, “Turkey: Human Rights in Retreat." Indeed, this nation is trending in a very troubling direction since the attempted coup.

As you are probably aware, the details surrounding Pastor Brunson's particular case are, at best, unclear and shrouded in secrecy by the Turkish government. The charges he now faces are of the severest category, opening the potential for him to face years in Turkish prison. Yet, his arrest and treatment to date appear to be in conflict Turkey's international legal obligations and longstanding international legal norms. We understand that even U.S. Consular Affairs has had difficulty gaining access to Pastor Brunson.

1 am writing to ask that the Department of State insist that Turkish authorities release the details of the charges against Pastor Brunson, that they allow Pastor Brunson access to legal services, that relevant evidence be released to his counsel, and that all legal proceedings be transparent. Such information is not only vital for his legal representation, but also in the interest of the international community as we seek to promote justice for ethnic and religious minorities around the world.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter.

There is also a petition that you can sign, and when commenting on this situation on social media you can include the hashtags #freeAndrewBrunson and #SaveBrunson.