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Is an American Missionary Jailed in Turkey Being Used as a Political Pawn?

After having served in Turkey as a missionary for twenty-three years, North Carolina native Andrew Brunson was arrested in October and charged with being a member of an armed terrorist organization. Now the Turkish prime minister is hinting that the American pastor is being used as a political pawn in Turkey's bid to get Fethullah Gulen extradited from the U.S.

Since Turkey's failed military coup, Christians and other religious minorities have increasingly become the targets of detention and deportation, and are unreasonably subjected to other governmental regulation simply because of their faith.

For 23 years, Brunson, who pastors the Izmir Resurrection Church, has worked openly on behalf of the people of that city. In October, he was summoned to report with his passport to a local police station where he was arrested and later told that he was considered a "national security risk." He was soon transferred to a Detention Centre and held for 63 days, despite no evidence having been presented to justify the accusations against him. On December 9, Pastor Brunson was taken to court and, he says, falsely charged with "membership in an armed terrorist organization."

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has promised to speed the American's trial up, although he has admitted that "judiciary matters are not directly controlled by us.” Considering that the Turkish government has yet to provide any evidence for the charges against Brunson, the promise to speed up the trial may be of little comfort.

Brunson is being represented by the American Center for Law and Justice, a Christian organization dedicated to protecting constitutional and human rights around the globe. The ACLJ has interviewed Brunson's wife, Turkish contacts, and looked at his various meetings. The organization has been unable to uncover even a hint of wrongdoing on Brunson's part. Any trial will most likely be a puppet trial with an already determined outcome, which is why the ACLJ is pushing for Brunson to be released and not stand trial.

Pastor Brunson’s detention appears to be related to his work as a Christian minister, making his arrest and imprisonment a violation of both Turkey’s Constitution and international agreements to which Turkey is a party, as well as Pastor Brunson’s fundamental rights.

Turkey, a supposed ally of America, is no doubt playing a bit of a game of politics with the arrest and unsubstantiated criminal charges against Brunson. When asked about Brunson at a recent press conference, Prime Minister Yildirim indicated his disapproval over the American government's failure to extradite Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. “I’m not establishing a connection between the two cases, but such an incident of a large scale was not taken seriously by the Obama administration,” Yildirim said. “They stalled for time, yet we had hundreds killed and thousands injured” in the coup attempt.