President Erdogan seeks swap of the Rev. Andrew Brunson for a Turkish political rival living in the US
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is willing to release US Evangelical pastor Andrew Craig Brunson – detained in Turkey for one year and accused of espionage if in exchange, the US authorities hand over Turkish Islamic preacher Fetullah Gulen, in exile in the United States since 1999, indicated by Ankara as the mind behind the failed coup on July 15, 2016. The proposed exchange was prefigured by Erdogan himself during a meeting with members of the Turkish police force on September 28 at the Presidential building in Ankara. On that occasion Erdogan explicitly linked the possible release of Evangelical pastor to the request of Gulen’s extradition.
Erdogan’s appeal was not taken into consideration by the US administration: during the daily briefing with the press on September 28, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert described the exchange as outlined by the Turkish President impossible, adding that the US will continue to work to encourage Brunson’s release, because the Evangelical pastor “was wrongfully imprisoned in Turkey, and we would like to see him brought home”.
Evangelical pastor Andrew Craig Brunson, former head of the Evangelical Church of the Resurrection in Izmir (Smyrne Diriliş Kilisesi), was summoned in October 2016 together with his wife, Lyn Norine, from the Immigration Office, that initially told them to leave the Country, justifying this measure with the vague accusation that he received funds from abroad to fund missionary initiatives and endanger the security of the Country with their activities. Subsequently, the Turkish press reported that the decree of expulsion for the Evangelical pastor had been transformed into arrest after a secret witness accused him of belonging to the so-called FETO (Turkish acronym of “Fethullahnista terrorist organization”). In jail, Brunson had received visits from senior US embassy officials inTurkey, and also US President Donald Trump had demanded the release of the Evangelical pastor during the meeting last May at the White House with Turkish President Erdogan. Last August, aft er Trump’s intervention, Brunson was charged with crimes even worse than the ones he had been accused of in the past, and was imprisoned in a high security prison where some are accused of being among the top officials responsible for the failed coup in 2016. (Agenzia Fides, 2/10/2017)