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.
Gulen, an exiled cleric who is living in Pennsylvania, is accused by the Turkish government of being one of the main organizers of the coup attempt last year. Gulen denies the claim, and the American government is asking Turkey to provide evidence for Gulen’s involvement before proceeding any further with the case. The ACLJ is concerned that the Turkish government is holding Brunson as a bargaining chip in their dispute with the U.S. over Gulen. Brunson’s attorney from the ACLJ, CeCe Heil, told USA Today that he fears Brunson will be held as a hostage for Gulen and his release could be delayed until Turkey’s request for Gulen’s extradition works its way through the U.S. system.
Another possible variable at play may be the fact that Andrew Brunson is a Christian pastor. While supposedly a secular country, Turkey is becoming increasingly dominated by the Islamic agenda of the ruling Justice and Development Party, referred to as AKP. The arrest of Brunson is just another action in an increasingly long line of pro-Muslim and anti-West actions taken by the Turkish government.
Chances are, both motives prompted the Turkish government to arrest and falsely charge the American Christian missionary who has never been accused of anything even similar, and who has given no reason for anyone to suspect his involvement in an armed terrorist organization. In tandem, those two motives create a geopolitical/religious ideology cocktail that’s resulted in the persecution of a Christian.
Appealing to the UN, and speaking through their European affiliate, the ACLJ said in an oral statement:
The European Centre for Law and Justice would like to draw the Council’s attention to Pastor Andrew Brunson, an American citizen, who has been imprisoned in Turkey since 7 October 2016, despite having committed no crime.”
The ECLJ urges this Council to call upon Turkey to honour its obligations. The ECLJ further requests that the U.N. make every effort to ensure that Pastor Brunson is not only treated with great care, but that he is quickly released and allowed to return home without injury or delay.
Considering the volatile situation in Turkey, Brunson’s situation could quickly go from bad to worse. Knowing that the clock is ticking, the ACLJ is appealing to the U.S. State Department as well as Capitol Hill. If you are interested in helping Pastor Andrew Brunson and the ACLJ, there is a petition at the bottom of this link.