American pastor charged with 'terrorism' in Turkey
IZMIR, Turkey (BP) -- American pastor Andrew Brunson has been indicted in Turkey on charges of terrorism. The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) claims the charges amount to an admission "that Turkey considers sharing the Gospel an 'act of terrorism.'"
A court date of April 16 has been set, the ACLJ reported. If convicted, Brunson, 50, could face 35 years in prison.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) reported previously that the case against Brunson was "largely based on a purported 'secret witness' and secret evidence" which Turkish officials "refuse to make public." With the indictment, however, the ACLJ stated, "the case file is now finally open, and by the end of the week, we should have access to all of the alleged evidence."
Various media outlets had reported Brunson was indicted last week and charged with "leadership in a terrorist organization," with prosecutors seeking a possible life sentence. The ACLJ issued an update March 15 implying the indictment may not, in fact, have been submitted in court. However, this week's ACLJ update clarified that the indictment was submitted last week despite alleged statements by a Turkish prosecutor to the contrary.
When reports of the indictment first surfaced, the USCIRF said it "strongly condemns" the charges and asked the Trump administration to "redouble their ongoing efforts to secure Pastor Brunson's release."
"No stone should be left unturned in our efforts on behalf of this unjustly imprisoned American," USCIRF vice chairs Sandra Jolley and Kristina Arriaga said in a March 13 release. "We call again for his immediate release and, if this is not forthcoming, for the administration and Congress to impose targeted sanctions against those involved in this miscarriage of justice."
Brunson has lived in Turkey 23 years, and his pastorate is a small evangelical Presbyterian church in Izmir, according to the USCIRF website. Both President Trump and members of Congress have called for Brunson's release. Former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asked Turkey to release Brunson during a visit there in February, the USCIRF stated.
In a March 9 address to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Brunson's daughter Jacqueline called the allegations against her father "absurd" and said her family "has suffered greatly" since Andrew Brunson was first detained in October 2016, the USCIRF reported.
David Curry, president of the religious liberty watchdog group Open Doors USA, said Brunson "essentially" is a "hostage" held by Turkey as part of its attempt to pressure the U.S. to extradite Muslim cleric Fethulla Gulen, who Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan believes is responsible for a failed coup attempt in 2016.
"There's not a lot that can be diplomatically done by Christian churches here because we're talking about a dictator who's not going to respond to our pleas," Curry said in a news release. "And in some cases, in some ways, it may be counterproductive. So we're going to have to be prayerful about this."