The situation for American Pastor Andrew Brunson is not improving. For those who haven’t been following the story, Brunson has been the political prisoner (more correctly, “hostage”) of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for more than a year and a half now. He was arrested on bogus charges of conspiring against the Turkish government and being in league with exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, who currently resides in Pennsylvania. Efforts by the Trump administration to secure Brunson’s release have, to date, not made any progress.
This week, Brunson was scheduled to appear in court to answer the charges. As Reuters reports, this was handled like a kangaroo court, with the judge refusing to admit testimony from any of Brunson’s witnesses. When it was over he was summarily returned to his cell with no apparent hope of release.
A U.S. pastor denied terrorism and spying charges in a Turkish court on Monday and called them “shameful and disgusting”, in a prosecution that has been condemned by U.S. President Donald Trump.
Andrew Brunson, who could face up to 35 years in jail, denied links to a network led by U.S.-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, accused of orchestrating a failed military coup in Turkey in 2016, and the outlawed Kurdish PKK militant group…
“I am helping Syrian refugees, they say that I am aiding the PKK. I am setting up a church, they say I got help from Gulen’s network,” Brunson said, referring to the testimonies of anonymous witnesses in court.
One of the secret witnesses accused Brunson of trying to establish a Christian Kurdish state, and providing coordinates to U.S. forces in the delivery of weapons to the Kurdish YPG militia, active in northern Syria.
If the Turks were claiming that preaching Christianity was somehow undermining their state agenda you could almost see how a charge could be brought in a theocracy against a Christian missionary. It wouldn’t be right and we would still be within our rights to demand his release, but you could almost understand their thinking. This, however, is total nonsense. They’re using anonymous witnesses to claim that this elderly pastor and his wife were somehow engaged in coordinating weapon and troop transfers to help out the Kurds.
Fortunately, more and more people are becoming aware of Brunson’s plight and calling for action. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released a statement including these observations.
“We leave the courthouse with serious concerns. Today’s eleven hours of proceedings were dominated by wild conspiracies, tortured logic, and secret witnesses, but no real evidence to speak of. Upon these rests a man’s life,” said Vice Chair Jolley. “Worse still, the judge’s decision at the conclusion of today’s hearing to dismiss all of the witnesses called by Pastor Brunson’s defense without listening to a single minute of their testimony is simply unconscionable.”
This is an ongoing tragedy in search of a solution and the fact of the matter is that it’s up to President Trump and the State Department to make this right. Far too much time has gone by while Pastor Brunson has languished in that Turkish prison. Thus far the President has proven surprisingly effective in some negotiations, with the anticipated release of American citizens from North Korea being one of the best examples. I have no idea how that was managed, but the President needs to turn his attention to Brunson’s situation now. I don’t know how to get him released either, but I didn’t run for the job of POTUS. Donald Trump did.
Bring Pastor Brunson home, Mr. President. It’s the right thing to do and frankly, it’s your job.