“The government of Turkey continues to make a mockery of justice in its treatment of Pastor Brunson,” said USCIRF Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga”
WASHINGTON, DC — The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today condemned a Turkish court’s decision to return Pastor Andrew Brunson, an American citizen and leader of a small Protestant Christian church, to prison to await a fourth hearing on October 12, 2018. Pastor Brunson has been unjustly detained in Turkey since October 7, 2016 on false terrorism and espionage related charges. USCIRF Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga attended today’s hearing in Aliaga, Turkey. USCIRF has condemned the charges against Pastor Brunson and has called for his immediate release.
“The government of Turkey continues to make a mockery of justice in its treatment of Pastor Brunson,” said Vice Chair Arriaga. “Today I was hoping to see the judge order his complete release and put an end to the miscarriage of justice that Pastor Brunson’s entire case represents. Turkish authorities still have not provided one good reason for depriving Pastor Brunson of his liberties. The Trump Administration and the Congress should continue to apply pressure, including using targeted sanctions against officials connected to this case, until Pastor Brunson is released.”
For nearly two hours during the hearing, former church members testified against Pastor Brunson, making vague, unsubstantiated accusations. When the judge asked Brunson to reply to the witnesses, he said: “My faith teaches me to forgive, so I forgive those who testified against me.” Only one witness from the defense was allowed to testify.
After having lived and worked in Turkey for over 22 years, Pastor Brunson was initially detained almost two years ago and accused of membership in an armed terrorist organization. On March 13th of this year, Turkish prosecutors indicted Pastor Brunson on terrorism and espionage related charges, seeking a sentence of up to 35 years’ imprisonment. His first hearing took place on April 16 and his second hearing took place on May 7.
High-level U.S. officials, including President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, have called for Pastor Brunson’s release. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently spoke about the ongoing detention of American citizens, including Pastor Brunson, in Turkey.
On October 5, 2017, USCIRF Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga and then USCIRF Vice Chair Sandra Jolley were granted access to Kiriklar Prison in Izmir, Turkey and allowed to visit with Pastor Brunson. They were his first visitors outside of family, legal counsel, and U.S. embassy officials. They described their visit in an opinion editorial for Religion News Service, which can be found here.
In 2018, USCIRF placed Turkey on its Tier 2 list of countries noted for violations of religious freedom and began advocating for Pastor Brunson as a part of its Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project.
For more information, see USCIRF’s 2018 annual report chapter on Turkey.
Photo: Andrew Brunson. Credit: AFP