Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seemed to indicate that jailed American pastor Andrew Brunson will only be released when Washington gives Turkey a Muslim cleric living in the U.S. who is Erdogan’s rival.
Speaking at a police academy graduation ceremony in Ankara on Thursday, Erodgan said, “..they (the U.S.) get up and say…’Give us so and so cleric,'” in reference to Pastor Brunson.
Erdogan then brought up Pennsylvania-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, saying: “You have a cleric there. You give him to us and we’ll give you this one.”
Turkey has been seeking the extradition of Gulen, who was once Erodgan’s ally, and whose supporters have been blamed for trying to overthrow Erdogan’s government last year.
Gulen has denied any role in the coup attempt.
Brunson, who pastored a Presbyterian fellowship in the coastal town of Izmir, has been held since October last year. He’s been charged with espionage, acquiring secret political and military information, attempting to destroy constitutional order and overthrowing the Turkish parliament, in addition to alleged “membership in an armed terroristic organization.”
Despite personal requests from President Trump and Vice President Pence, the government has refused to release him.
Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, said President Donald Trump was scheduled to meet with the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, on Thursday at the United Nations. No word yet if Brunson’s imprisonment was discussed.
“He is in extraordinary danger,” wrote Sekulow in an email.
“He is isolated and alone with no access to justice in Turkey,” Sekulow said. “Pastor Andrew has endured devastating persecution and suffering solely because of his love for Christ.”
Brunson, 48, faces charges of espionage, acquiring secret political and military information, attempting to destroy constitutional order and overthrowing the Turkish parliament, in addition to alleged “membership in an armed terroristic organization,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
Brunson has said his reason for living in Turkey for the past 23 years was “…for one purpose only. To tell about Jesus Christ,” according to the ACLJ. He has also said that he has “…done this openly, in front of the government,” the ACLJ reported.
“Pastor Andrew now faces new, more serious, and demonstrably false charges carrying even stiffer punishments, if convicted,” Sekulow said. “We’re aggressively fighting for Pastor Andrew’s immediate freedom.”
Nearly 350,000 people have signed an ACLJ petition: “Free American Pastor Andrew Brunson.”
Interestingly, a new emergency decree in Turkey gives Erdogan the right to return inmates to their home countries.
“Please pray that President Erdogan would use the authority he was given by a new decree (694) to return prisoners to their home countries on Andrew’s behalf!” a September 16 post on Andrew and Norine Brunson’s Facebook page exclaims.
Brunson and his wife Norine have lived in Turkey since 1993. They raised three children there and serve a small Presbyterian church in the coastal city of Izmir.