IZMIR – Despite heightened optimism that a Turkish court might release U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson from prison today, expectations were dealt a blow when the court ordered him to remain in custody. The next hearing, his fourth, is scheduled for 12 October 2018.
Brunson, 50, a native of North Carolina, has lived in Turkey for 23 years, where he has been the pastor of the Izmir Resurrection Church, a small, evangelical Presbyterian congregation.
Brunson’s appearance today was scheduled for the Second High Penal Court to consider allowing him to be released from custody whilst awaiting trial on charges of aiding terror groups and engaging in espionage.
The accusations against him are based on the testimony of three secret witnesses claiming that Brunson was connected to the attempted coup of the Turkish government in July 2016. The prosecution is seeking a 15-year sentence for charges of being complicit in supporting the uprising as a member of “an armed terrorist organization,” and an additional 20 years on charges of “obtaining state secrets for political and military spying purposes.
The hearing scheduled for October 12th is set aside for the testimony of the secret witnesses.
Philip Kosnerm the Charge d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Turkey has attended all three hearing. He issued a public statement saying, “I have read the indictment . . . I don’t believe that Pastor Brunson is guilty of any sort of criminal or terrorist activity.” He went on to say, “We have great respect both for Turkey’s traditional law as a haven for people of all faiths and for Turkey’s legal traditions. And we believe that this case is out of step with those traditions.”
Although the Turkish government continues to say that the case will be settled in the courts, President Recep Erdogan has discussed his release with U.S. President Donald Trump. Although there has been little evidence of progress on that front, the offer is based on a proposed prisoner swap in which the U.S. would deliver the American-based Muslim cleric reportedly responsible for the 2016 coup.
In addition to the fact that no evidence has been presented against him, the indictment against him claims that he “worked to convert Kurds to Christianity to sow discord in Turkey.” If there is any place for reading between the lines, that statement is it. President Erdogan has made no secret of his intention to convert the secular nation of Kamal Attaturk to the home and center of a powerful Muslim caliphate.
Christians need to continue to pray for Andrew Brunson, particularly that the Lord would work in and through him in this time of persecution.
- Hurriyet Daily News, Turkish court rules to keep American pastor Brunson in jail
- The Detroit News, US pastor denied release in trial hearing in Turkey
- The Washington Post, Turkish court rejects appeals to release jailed American pastor
- United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Pastor Andrew Brunson