Yesterday we found out about Canadian citizen Ece Heper, who is currently under detention in Turkey for daring to comment on the presidency of Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Facebook. But there’s one other story we should have pointed out earlier which is even more disturbing. Andrew Brunson is an American pastor and missionary from North Carolina who has been living in Turkey and preaching the Good Word for more than twenty years. His services were curtailed in October, however, when he was arrested by Erdogan’s goons and he’s currently in prison facing “terrorism” charges. Throughout this ordeal there has been little to no help from the Obama administration and now the pastor’s family has reached out to the Trump transition team. The Daily Caller has the latest details.
A Christian social activist group has been in touch with the Donald Trump transition team in hopes of freeing an American pastor who has been held in a Turkish prison for three months on bogus terrorism charges, The Daily Caller is told.
“We’ve reached out, and they’re obviously aware,” Jordan Sekulow, the executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, says of the case of Andrew Brunson, a native of North Carolina who has served as a missionary in Turkey for 23 years.
“We haven’t seen the engagement from our highest level officials. They’re on their way out, and it doesn’t seem like necessarily it’s on their priority list,” Sekulow added of the outgoing Obama administration.
“It’s going to take more action from the Trump administration.”
The American Center for Law and Justice has been following this story from the beginning. Last month they published an extensive summary of the events to date which will bring you up to speed on Brunson’s situation.
Pastor Andrew Brunson – a U.S. citizen from Black Mountain, North Carolina – was summoned to the local police station in Izmir, Turkey on the morning of October 7, 2016. He believed he would be receiving a long awaited permanent residence card. Pastor Brunson, who is a U.S. citizen, has been living in Turkey for 23 years, running a Christian church with the full knowledge of local authorities.
Upon arriving at the station, he was informed he was being deported based on being a “threat to national security,” a common excuse for deportation in Turkey. It became clear that he was being arrested and would be detained until deportation. He was fingerprinted, searched, and had his phone, pen, etc. taken away. He was denied a Bible. But instead of being deported, he was held with no charges for 63 days, during which time he was denied access to his Turkish attorney. He was placed in solitary confinement for part of this time, with his glasses and watch confiscated.
Following that initial period of confinement, things became even more dire for Brunson on December 8th. It had been widely expected that he might be deported at that time. This would have been tragic for his ministry and the Turkish Christians he serves at Izmir Resurrection Church, but at least he’d have been safe back at home. Instead, the judge who could have either ordered his deportation or put him on supervised release decided to take a third route. He falsely charged Brunson with “membership in an armed terrorist organization” and sent him to prison where he has remained ever since.
The excuse the Turks used was the same one we’ve seen employed by Erdogan time and again since the coup last year. It was suggested that Bruson was somehow associated with U.S. based cleric Fethullah Gulen. Every time the regime wants to make someone disappear they accuse them of either being in league with Gulen or tied in with the Kurds.
The fact that more noise isn’t being made about this is disheartening in the extreme. I realize that it’s not the job of the United States to save the Turkish people from Erdogan as the country slides deeper into tyranny, but when Americans and our allies become casualties in this disaster a line has been crossed. Analysts suspect that Erdogan sees Brunson as some sort of a bargaining chip, but we shouldn’t be in a position where we need to make any deals to get one of our own people back from a country which remains, at least ostensibly, one of our allies.
Barack Obama and John Kerry have had ample opportunity to say something – anything – about the deteriorating conditions and impending demise of democracy in Turkey. Thus far they’ve chosen to remain silent. But with an American life on the line, remaining silent is no longer an option. If the White House won’t do anything to resolve this situation as Obama’s team prepares to exit, Donald Trump needs to get on the phone and demonstrate the sort of leadership he has promised the nation. This would be an excellent opportunity to come out of the gate strong on the foreign diplomacy front. Andrew Brunson must be freed and either returned to his ministry or brought home to the United States.