An American pastor jailed in Turkey for more than 20 months on terrorism-related charges has been transferred from prison to house arrest.
A leader of the Turkish Protestant Church told World Watch Monitor that Brunson’s wife is on her way to the prison to meet her husband, and to ensure the Prosecutor’s order to transfer him to house arrest was carried out swiftly.
In October 2016, after more than 20 years of serving as an evangelical missionary in Turkey, Andrew Brunson was summoned to a local police station. He thought he was going to receive a long-awaited permanent residence card. But instead, Brunson was notified he was being deported because he was 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 coup attempt in July 2016.
Brunson had been detained for more than 500 days when, this March, Turkish prosecutors issued an official indictment calling for him to receive life in prison. “I don’t accept any of the allegations,” Pastor Andrew Brunson told the judge on the first day of the trial in April. “I have never done anything against Turkey. On the contrary, I love Turkey. I have been praying for Turkey for 25 years.”
According to Al-Monitor, when Brunson was asked during the trial about his alleged sympathies with Fetullah Gulen he responded, “This is an insult to my beliefs. I am a Christian. I do not belong to Islamic religious groups. Their aims are different to my aims. I have no connection with any [Gulen-associated] organization.”
During the trial, the U.S. government had a team of observers present, including North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis and Sam Brownback, U.S. Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom.
“The [Trump] administration is deeply concerned about this case,” Brownback said at the time. “You will continue to see very high-level U.S. government interest in this until he is released.”
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 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 U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) welcomed the Turkish court’s decision but said more is needed.
“This is welcome news,” said Kristina Arriaga, vice chair of USCIRF. “It is good that Pastor Brunson will have some relief after being held in a Turkish prison for more than 600 days. But it is not enough. The Turkish government has deprived this innocent man of his due process rights and liberty for too long, and it must completely release him. If it fails to do so, the Trump Administration and the Congress should respond strongly and swiftly with targeted sanctions against the authorities responsible.”
Aykan Erdemir, a former member of Turkey’s parliament and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, confirmed to World Watch Monitor that Brunson will remain in pre-trial detention until the next hearing, scheduled for October 12, 2018.