Earlier this week, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) issued a formal written statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council on behalf of Andrew Brunson, an American pastor who has been detained in Turkey for an immigration violation and alleged acts of terrorism.
The request for UN involvement was submitted ahead of a scheduled meeting Tuesday between President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
According to the Telegraph, the closed face-to-face meeting between President Erdoğan and Trump included some difficult conversations — like the American government’s decision to arm Syrian Kurds with weapons to fight off ISIS, the Turkish government’s perceived blind eye to consistent and deadly human rights violations and discussion over Fethullah Gulen — a Turkish Islamic preacher living in exile in Pennsylvania. President Erdoğan holds Gulen responsible for Turkey’s deadly military coup last year that left 241 people dead and over 2,000 injured.
Pastor Brunson’s family and Christian activists were hopeful that their case would also be discussed Tuesday.
And it was. On Tuesday afternoon, the White House confirmed multiple reports that President Trump pushed for Andrew’s release.
Brunson and his wife Norine have resided in Turkey for the past 23 years. This past October, three months after the failed military coup, the couple were detained on immigration violation charges linked to the small church they run in Izmir, a city along Turkey’s western sea coast. Norine Brunson was soon released, the Daily Caller reported, while Andrew has remained imprisoned.
In the past six months, Christian Today reported, “The charges [against Andrew Brunson] have since escalated to accusations of terrorism, though Turkey have produced no evidence for the claims.”
— ACLJ (@ACLJ) May 15, 2017
In the written ACLJ submission, the group stresses the Turkish government’s responsibility to adhere to the human rights norms set forth in the UN Charter, contrasting this with the national government’s decision to detain Christian missionaries.
From the ACLJ:
By detaining and imprisoning Pastor Brunson because of his religious expression, peaceful association, and assembly of religious believers, Turkey is violating not its obligations under the UN Charter, but its own Constitution as well as Pastor Brunson’s fundamental rights: freedom of religion and belief, freedom of expression, freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
Therefore, these violations concern not only Turkey, but every member state and every agency of the UN.
Last month, Brunson himself submitted a letter requesting the U.S. to intervene in his case. In it, the pastor asked, “Will the Turkish government face no consequence for stubbornly continuing to hold an American citizen as a political prisoner?”
“Even though I have a long public track record as a church pastor,” he added, “they falsely accuse me of being a member of an Islamist terrorist group.”
While awaiting answers regarding Andrew’s fate, Norine Brunson has continued to use social media to provide updates on how her husband is holding up and to ask Christians around the world to pray for him.
Christian persecution watchdog organization Open Doors USA has categorized the persecution of Christians in Turkey as “high,” primarily due to “Islamic extremism” and “religious nationalism.” The group adds that this past year, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of reported persecution cases.
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