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By Joshua Gill
An American pastor has been imprisoned in Turkey on false accusations as leverage to move the U.S. to extradite political enemies of Turkey.
Andrew Brunson of North Carolina was arrested along with his wife Oct. 7, 2016 in the coastal Turkish town of Izmir with no evidence presented against him, according to a report from EPC. Brunson’s wife was released, but Turkish authorities charged Brunson with “membership in an armed terrorist organization.”
Authorities accused Brunson, without any evidence, of aiding the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) and Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish Muslim cleric living in Pennsylvania, whom Turkish authorities alleged to have helped orchestrate the failed Turkish coup in July 2016. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued an ominous warning in May 2017 that no foreign captives would be released unless their respective governments met Erdogan’s demands to extradite his political enemies, according to a report from Daily Sabah.
“I now call on the world that if you do not contribute to the restoration of honor [of those victims from July 15 coup], you should know that you will not receive anyone that is captured by us,” Erdogan said. “Because counter terrorism is not local, it is the implementation of an international agreement. If such international combat is being conducted, then we want you [other countries] to extradite those [Gülenists] immediately, as we will also deprive them of their citizenships.”
Erdogan has demanded the extradition of Gülen for months, who has lived in the U.S. for 20 years. The U.S. refused to extradite him on the grounds that Turkish authorities failed to produce any evidence against Gülen. Despite Erdogan’s meeting with President Donald Trump in May, neither government made any headway in Gülen’s or Brunson’s cases.
Brunson’s case at this point looks bleak, according to Ayhan Erdemir, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and former member of the opposition party in Turkey’s parliament.
“The Turkish government has no intentions of providing Pastor Brunson a fair trial,” Erdemir said. “Ankara sees Brunson as a hostage that they can use as leverage in their relations with the United States,” he added.
The American Center for Law and Justice has petitioned for the U.S. to intervene on Brunson’s behalf. Sen. James Lankford visited Turkey to discuss Brunson’s case with authorities and issued a warning to the Turkish government that the government should “consider carefully how it handles the case of Pastor Brunson.”
“As it stands, because of recent imprisonments of over two dozen Americans over the past seven months, I cannot support Turkey’s involvement in a future European trade deal,” Lankford wrote in a statement. “I would not support increased trade ties of any kind which need approval from Congress until Turkey illustrates its commitment again to basic religious freedom.”
Brunson is an elder in the Global Movement of Evangelical Presbyterian Churches. Brunson has lived in Turkey since 1993, working as a pastor and planting several churches. The Turkish government has not formally charged Brunson with anything and has sealed his legal documents for over eight months. The ACLJ, EPC, Sen. Lankford and Brunson’s family will continue their efforts to secure Brunson’s freedom.