President Donald Trump recently used his social media following to call attention to Pastor Andrew Brunson, a U.S. citizen and missionary to Turkey who has been hauled before the courts on dubious charges of plotting to overthrow the government.
“Pastor Andrew Brunson, a fine gentleman and Christian leader in the United States, is on trial and being persecuted in Turkey for no reason,” Trump tweeted Tuesday.
Pastor Andrew Brunson, a fine gentleman and Christian leader in the United States, is on trial and being persecuted in Turkey for no reason. They call him a Spy, but I am more a Spy than he is. Hopefully he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 18, 2018
Brunson protested his innocence at his first court appearance in the western Turkish town of Aliaga Monday.
“I’ve never done something against Turkey. I love Turkey,” he said. “I’ve been praying for Turkey for 25 years. I want the truth to come out.”
“I do not accept the charges mentioned in the indictment. I was never involved in any illegal activities,” Brunson continued, speaking in fluent Turkish.
Brunson’s wife was present at the court appearance, alongside North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis (R) and U.S. Ambassador for Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback.
The prosecution is seeking a jail sentence of up to 35 years for Brunson, arguing that the pastor was secretly aiding armed terrorist groups and providing them with confidential government and military information that could be used to sabotage the government. He has been accused of working with Gulen’s network as well as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
“They call him a Spy, but I am more a Spy than he is,” Trump wrote Monday. “Hopefully he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!”
Ambassador Brownback urged the Turkish government Monday to release Brunson if they want to stay in good standing with the United States.
“The United States cares deeply about our relationship with Turkey,” Brownback told reporters in a break from proceedings. “That relationship is going to have difficulty moving forward as long as Andrew Brunson is incarcerated.”
“The administration is deeply concerned about this case,” he added. “We completely believe factually he is innocent. Andrew Brunson is innocent. We are hopeful that the judicial system will find that, that he will be released, released soon.”
Brownback insisted that there would be a “very high-level U.S. government interest in this until [Brunson] is released.”
Pastor Brunson will be held in prison until his next court appearance on May 7.