Religious freedom advocates this week strongly condemned a Turkish court’s decision to return Pastor Andrew Brunson to prison following his third hearing on Wednesday.
“Pastor Brunson’s continued imprisonment is an outrageous violation of fundamental human rights, especially religious freedom,” stated NRB’s president & CEO, Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, after the court decided to schedule a fourth hearing for October 12, which will extend the North Carolina native’s imprisonment to more than two years.
“Let’s pray for Pastor Brunson,” Johnson added. “Our government must continue to work for his freedom.”
Late Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump posted a tweet urging Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to step in and take action to free Brunson.
“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,” the President tweeted.
“@RT_Erdogan should do something to free this wonderful Christian husband & father. He has done nothing wrong, and his family needs him!” he added.
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
And, during an interview Thursday morning with Salem Radio’s Hugh Hewitt, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “The entire administration is focused on getting his return.”
“We believe religious freedom is central to the world, and to, frankly, America’s place in the world. We make it a real priority,” he said. “Pastor Brunson, in particular, has been a prayer of mine since even before I had this current role.”
Secretary Pompeo later told Hewitt that “the United States Government is working diligently to ensure the release of Pastor Brunson. And then there are others being held in Turkey, too, that we’re working hard on.”
A U.S. citizen who pastored churches in Turkey for more than two decades, Brunson was arrested by Turkish authorities in October 2016 and held without charges for months. The North Carolina native was then kept in prison after being accused, without compelling evidence, of being a member of a terrorist group.
A few months ago, an official indictment was filed by Turkish prosecutors, who are seeking a 35-year sentence for the American pastor. He has since had three hearings – the first on April 16, the second on May 6, and the third on July 18.
Kristina Arriaga, vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), attended Wednesday’s hearing in Aliaga, Turkey, and chided the government of Turkey for continuing “to make a mockery of justice in its treatment of Pastor Brunson.”
“Today I was hoping to see the judge order his complete release and put an end to the miscarriage of justice that Pastor Brunson’s entire case represents,” she said in a statement. “Turkish authorities still have not provided one good reason for depriving Pastor Brunson of his liberties.”
Arriaga – whose independent, bipartisan federal commission reviews the facts and circumstances of religious freedom violations and makes policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress – said the Trump administration and Congress should continue to apply pressure, including using targeted sanctions against officials connected to this case, until Pastor Brunson is released.
Groups including the Save The Persecuted Christians coalition similarly called on President Trump, the administration, and U.S. legislators to “step it up and do everything in their power to bring home” Brunson.
As Brunson awaits his next hearing, NRB continues to urge Christians in America to pray for the imprisoned pastor and to sign a petition demanding his release.
The petition, spearheaded by the American Center for Law and Justice, has been signed so far by more than 585,000 individuals. It urges the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to intervene in the case.
By NRB Staff
Published: July 19, 2018