After One Year of Dangerous Imprisonment American Pastor Andrew Brunson is Now a Hostage in Turkey
Tomorrow marks one year of false imprisonment for American Pastor Andrew Brunson. He has now spent one year apart from his family. He’s spent one year in a Turkish prison for his Christian faith. He has spent one year wondering each day if he will ever be free to return to America. He has spent one year enduring unthinkable persecution for his Christian faith. Even worse, after one year of false imprisonment for his faith, Pastor Andrew is now a hostage of the Turkish government – a pawn in the hands of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. President Erdoğan just confirmed that his regime is holding Pastor Brunson hostage, demanding that the U.S. government turn over Erdoğan’s political enemy who is currently living in the United States, Fethullah Gülen (an Islamic imam Erdoğan blames for the recent coup in Turkey). Pastor Andrew has done nothing wrong. Pastor Andrew deserves to be home with his family. But now Pastor Andrew is being held hostage. He must be released. This is Pastor Andrew’s story: Pastor Andrew Brunson is a United States citizen from North Carolina. For over 23 years, Pastor Andrew has lived peacefully in Turkey, serving as pastor of the Izmir Resurrection Church and raising his family without incident. On October 7, 2016, Pastor Andrew arrived home to find a written summons requiring him to report with his passport to a local police station. Believing the summons was related to his routine application for a renewal of his residence visa, Pastor Andrew promptly reported to the Izmir police, only to be arrested and later told that he was considered a “national security risk,” a common charged leveled to persecute Christians. After his arrest and detention, Pastor Andrew was falsely charged with “membership in an armed terrorist organization.” During all of the months that have followed Pastor Andrew’s arrest, no concrete evidence has been set forth to substantiate any of the charges against him. Moreover, Pastor Andrew’s case is sealed, all visits from his attorney are recorded, and all notes are copied. Pastor Andrew has continuously denied the charge against him – he has never been a member of an armed terrorist organization. Notably, Pastor Andrew’s arrest followed a failed military coup in Turkey, after which Turkey began a crackdown that has disappointingly swept up innocent religious minorities – especially Christians – in an ever-widening dragnet. Pastor Andrew was unfortunately caught up in that dragnet. While in prison, Pastor Andrew has lived under inhumane conditions, and has spent extended periods of time in a cell meant for 8 people but which at times held as many as 22 people. Despite no evidence to support the vague and false charges against him, one year later, Pastor Andrew is still in prison – and there has been no effort on the part of the Turkish government to move his case forward. Less than a month ago, the Turkish government levied new and additional charges against Pastor Brunson. These new charges are just as false and even more concerning than the original charge and carry increasingly severe and harsh penalties. No evidence to support these absurd claims has ever been presented. Pastor Andrew has and continues to adamantly maintain his innocence and deny all charges against him. He has reiterated that his purpose in being in Turkey for the past 23 years was “for one purpose only. To tell about Jesus Christ.” He has further stated that he has “done this openly, in front of the government.” On August 25, 2017, President Erdoğan implemented two new emergency decrees. One of the Decrees could directly affect Pastor Andrew’s case. Article 74 of Decree 694 gives President Erdoğan the power to return prisoners to their home countries. Under this Decree, President Erdoğan clearly has the authority and ability to release Pastor Andrew and return him to his home and family in the United States. With the additional unfounded and serious allegations against Pastor Andrew, it is critical that President Erdoğan execute his new power on behalf of Pastor Andrew. Yet instead, President Erdoğan has chosen to hold Pastor Andrew hostage because of his Christian faith. This must end. At the ACLJ, we have spent the last year aggressively advocating across the globe for his freedom. What has been done for Pastor Andrew’s case: December 14, 2016: The ACLJ launches an international legal advocacy campaign calling for Pastor Andrew’s release. December 2016: After a briefing from the ACLJ, Senator James Lankford (OK) met with Turkey’s Ministry of Interior and Minister of Foreign Affairs to discuss Pastor Andrew’s case during his visit to Turkey. February 2017: We presented written and oral statements before the 34th U.N. Human Rights Council highlighting Pastor Andrew’s plight. February 15, 2017: We helped facilitate a bicameral letter from Members of Congress sent to President Erdoğan requesting Pastor Andrew’s release. February 16, 2017: We sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging his involvement in Pastor Andrew’s case. March 30, 2017: Secretary of State Tillerson raised Pastor Andrew’s case directly with President Erdoğan, during his visit to Turkey . March 30, 2017: Pastor Andrew’s wife had a personal meeting with Secretary of State Tillerson during his trip to Turkey. April 2017: Vice President Pence sent a personal letter to Pastor Andrew’s wife, stating, “Andrew’s case remains a top priority of the U.S. government . . . .” April 25, 2017: The White House addressed its awareness of Pastor Andrew’s case during the daily press briefing . April 2017: Pastor Andrew’s family met with Senators James Lankford (OK), Lindsey Graham (SC), Richard Burr (NC), Thom Tillis (NC), and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker (TN), in addition to several key and high-ranking State Department officials. May 11, 2017: ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow first discussed Pastor Andrew’s case with President Trump in the Oval Office. May 2017: We presented written and oral statements before the 35th U.N. Human Rights Council on Pastor Andrew’s behalf. August 15, 2017: Secretary of State Tillerson highlighted Pastor Andrew’s case in his opening remarks on the 2016 International Religious Freedom Report. Now, after a year of facing dangerous persecution for his faith, it is incumbent on all of us to redouble our efforts for Pastor Andrew. We must be heard. And we are. More than 350,000 people have signed our petition for Pastor Andrew. Pastor Andrew’s case has literally reached the world. We’ve obtained tens of thousands signatures from 194 nations and territories across the globe for Pastor Andrew’s freedom. But we cannot relent. We must stand with one voice and demand this innocent American citizen – a Christian pastor – be immediately released and returned home to America.