An American pastor who says he has been improperly detained and held in Turkey since October 7, 2016, due to his Christian faith, is pleading with President Donald Trump to more fervently fight for his release.
Andrew Brunson, a preacher from North Carolina who has spent more than two decades working as a missionary in Turkey, reportedly met with unnamed U.S. embassy officials on Tuesday, giving them a message that was published by the American Center for Law and Justice, a U.S.-based Christian activist group.
“Will the Turkish government face no consequence for stubbornly continuing to hold an American citizen as a political prisoner?” Brunson rhetorically asked in the statement. “Even though I have a long public track record as a church pastor, they falsely accuse me of being a member of an Islamist terrorist group.”
The pastor said Turkey has yet to produce evidence of the claims against him and that the Middle Eastern country has faced no penalties from the U.S. as a result of the decision to continue holding him behind bars.
The official claim against Brunson, according to the ACLJ, is that he had “membership in an armed terrorist organization.”
“I plead with my government – with the Trump Administration – to fight for me. I ask the State Department to impose sanctions,” Brunson continued. “I appeal to President Trump: please help me. Let the Turkish government know that you will not cooperate with them in any way until they release me. Please do not leave me here in prison.”
According to the ACLJ, Brunson had previously served in Turkey as a missionary for 23 years without incident. It wasn’t until Brunson applied for residency last year that he was arrested. The detainment came at a complicated time, following a failed military coup inside the country, WTVD-TV reported.
Republican Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford told Fox News earlier this month that he personally traveled to Ankara, the capital of Turkey, back in December and met with the department of justice there to officially learn the charges against Brunson.
The government told him they believe Brunson helped Kurdish refugees, whom they consider part of an “insurgent group” and that he attended a conference sponsored by Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic preacher they say instigated last year’s coup, Fox News reported.
But Brunson’s 19-year-old daughter, Jacqueline, denies that her dad had any involvement with any terrorist organization; she has been vocal in recent months about her father’s plight, urging the Trump administration to step in and help.
“We really, really want to get this case, my father’s case, to President Trump,” Jacqueline Brunson said. “We really feel it would be helpful to have the president’s support and have him personally arguing for my father’s case to get him back home safely to his family.”
The college student said she’s been forced to put off her own wedding plans as well to ensure that her dad can one day walk her down the aisle. Jacqueline Brunson told WTVD-TV, “That’s kind of on hold because I want my dad to be able to walk me down the aisle. I want him there. He only gets to see me get married once.”
The ACLJ is representing the embattled pastor as he continues his quest for freedom, with the activist group organizing a petition seeking his release that has garnered more than 238,000 signatures.
“We echo Pastor Andrew’s call. The U.S. government must take a more active role in fighting for Pastor Andrew’s release,” the group said in a statement. “He has done nothing wrong. He is a U.S. citizen wrongfully imprisoned in a foreign land because of his Christian faith. He deserves to be free.”
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said earlier this month that his country will consider speeding up Brunson’s trial. One of the intriguing elements of Yildirim’s discussion with journalists, though, was his expressed frustration during the discussion that the Obama administration had declined to extradite Gulen — who lives in Pennsylvania — to Turkey following the coup.
The U.S. government had asked the Muslim nation to provide direct evidence of Gulen’s purported involvement in order for that order to be given, USA Today reported.
“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 attempted coup).”
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