On Wednesday, President Donald Trump called on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to release jailed American pastor Andrew Brunson. Brunson was denied release in his latest trial hearing. Turkish authorities have charged him with terrorism.
“A total disgrace that Turkey will not release a respected U.S. Pastor, Andrew Brunson, from prison,” Trump tweeted. “He has been held hostage far too long.”
Trump addressed Erdoğan directly, adding, “Erdoğan should do something to free this wonderful Christian husband & father. He has done nothing wrong, and his family needs him!”
A total disgrace that Turkey will not release a respected U.S. Pastor, Andrew Brunson, from prison. He has been held hostage far too long. @RT_Erdogan should do something to free this wonderful Christian husband & father. He has done nothing wrong, and his family needs him!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 19, 2018
Brunson has been imprisoned for more than 500 days, and many human rights organizations have called for his release. In June, 85 senators voted to block the sale of F-35 jets to Turkey, citing a deal with Russia as well as the detention of Brunson. Despite Congress’ opposition, the first F-35 jet arrived in Turkey last month.
For his part, Erdoğan has offered to release Brunson if Trump hands over Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric based in the U.S. whom the Turkish president has blamed for a coup attempt against him in 2016.
Trump’s tweet demanding Erdoğan release Brunson seems a marked departure from his reported action of fist-bumping the Turkish president during the NATO summit and praising Erdoğan for “doing things the right way.” The Turkish president pledged to contribute more for NATO’s defenses, while other NATO allies said they would have to approve more funds through legislative bodies — a reasonable dodge.
While Turkey may be willing to contribute more to its own defense, its president rules with an iron fist. He has banned the ridesharing service Uber, rededicated the historic Hagia Sophia church to Islam, and seized power over the military, which was long considered the last line of defense in secular Turkey against an Islamist government.
The Turkish president has not yet responded to Trump’s demand, although he will likely refuse to release Brunson. According to the Christian persecution watchdog Open Doors, Turkey is the world’s 31st worst country for Christians.