A Turkish court on Wednesday again denied a request for the release of an American pastor based in Turkey who has been held prisoner since 2016, when he was arrested on terrorism charges.
Pastor Andrew Craig Brunson, a 50-year-old minister from Black Mountain, North Carolina, is facing up to 35 years in prison, The Associated Press reported, for “committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member” and “espionage.”
Brunson was arrested over alleged links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a connection the pastor has denied.
Following Wednesday’s hearing — the third regarding Brunson’s case — judges in Turkey scheduled another court appointment for Oct. 12.
President Donald Trump tweeted his support for Brunson in mid-April, noting the pastor is being held in Turkey for “no reason.”
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
But then on Monday, Trump seemingly poured praise on Turkish president Recep Erdogan, whom he fist-bumped and said does things “the right way,” CBS News reported. Trump was immediately reprimanded for the gesture by people on both ends of the political spectrum:
Erdogan is, of course, a dictator who had his goons beat up democratic protesters on American soil and who, for going on two years, has imprisoned an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, who had ministered in Turkey for 23 years. Can we wake up, please, and uncover a conscience? https://t.co/jae7BEkdTC
— Jay Nordlinger (@jaynordlinger) July 17, 2018
President Erdogan has unjustly held an American, Dr. Andrew Brunson, in a Turkish prison for almost two years. Erdogan does NOT do things the right way and should be confronted – not commended – for his actions. https://t.co/Bx9MYkglGE
— Sen. James Lankford (@SenatorLankford) July 16, 2018
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice and a member of Trump’s personal legal team, said Wednesday that he is deploying a team of lawyers to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness about Brunson’s case.
After day 3 of trial, American #PastorAndrew Brunson has been remanded back to prison. I'm deploying a senior legal team to Washington D.C. to raise his case. #Turkey must release him. https://t.co/UjEdV6OuYb
— Jay Sekulow (@JaySekulow) July 18, 2018
Former Turkish parliament member Aykan Erdemir, who now serves as a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Al-Monitor this week that the cards are stacked pretty tall against Brunson.
“Both the pro-government media and the prosecutor’s office have dug themselves deep in framing Brunson as a terrorist, and it will be a challenge for them to pull a U-turn,” he explained.
Erdemir went on to say allies of Erdogan’s regime “have a proven track record of anti-Christian and anti-missionary prejudice and would not welcome Brunson’s release.”
The dynamics that will keep U.S. Pastor #AndrewBrunson in pretrial detention in #Turkey for at least two years until his next court hearing on October 12. My comments yesterday in @amberinzaman’s @AlMonitor piece:https://t.co/UW5of1qGfo pic.twitter.com/epDQlW4ce1
— Aykan Erdemir (@aykan_erdemir) July 18, 2018
The top U.S. diplomat stationed at the American embassy in Turkey, Philip Kosnett, told The Associated Press he remains “deeply concerned” about Brunson’s status.
“I have read the indictment. I have attended three hearings. I don’t believe there is any indication that Pastor Brunson is guilty of any sort of criminal or terrorist activity,” he said, adding, “We have great faith in the commitment of the Turkish people to justice and will follow this case closely and hope that Pastor Brunson is reunited with his family soon.”
The indictment against Brunson claims he worked to convert Kurds to Christianity in order to sow discord in Turkey. He has lived in the Middle Eastern country for 23 years and pastored a small Protestant congregation at Izmir Resurrection Church.
Despite his ministry efforts, Turkish prosecutors believe his motives are political and he’s using religion as a cover.