WASHINGTON — Nearly 80 members of Congress have signed a letter to Turkish President Recep Erdoğan, calling for the immediate release of an American pastor who was jailed on an accusation that he is a member of a “terrorist organization.”
Andrew Brunson and his wife Norine, who have been living in Turkey for over 20 years, had been detained in Izmir in October after being accused of having “membership in an armed terrorist organisation,” specifically Fetullah Gulen, which is believed to have instigated a military coup against the government in July. Brunson led Protestant Resurrection Church in the city.
According to World Watch Monitor, Turkish authorities have detained and/or jailed thousands in their efforts to find those behind the failed coup. While Brunson’s wife was released 12 days after being taken into custody, in December, Brunson was escorted into court, being told that a “secret informant” had accused him of involvement in terrorism. He was then imprisoned and has reportedly had little connection with the outside world.
On Wednesday, 78 members of Congress signed a letter, spearheaded by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, that expresses their belief that Brunson is innocent and that his incarceration is unjust.
“There appears to be no evidence to substantiate the charges against him for membership in an armed terrorist organization,” it reads. “Moreover, your government has repeatedly denied regular and appropriate access to legal counsel and American consular services.”
“Mr. Brunson’s imprisonment has been raised repeatedly by U.S. government officials with officials of the government of Turkey,” the letter notes. “Unfortunately, high-level efforts to secure Mr. Brunson’s release have been unsuccessful. We have closely followed developments with this case, and are deeply disappointed.”
It asks that Erdoğan “inquire as to the options for promptly deporting Mr. Brunson and … act on them expeditiously.”
“In this spirit of partnership, we respectfully ask you to consider Mr. Brunson’s case and how the recent treatment of Mr. Brunson places significant strain not only on him and his family, but also on the robust bilateral relationship between the United States and Turkey,” the correspondence requests.
Signees include Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Rand Paul, R-Ky., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., James Lankford, R-Okla., Cory Gardner, R-Co., Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Reps. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., Trent Franks, R-Ariz., Chris Smith, R-N.J., Brendan Boyle, D-Pa., Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill. and Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga.
Religious rights advocacy groups applauded the news that members of Congress had united to back the pastor.
“We’re overjoyed to see such incredible support for Andrew from across the U.S. Congress,” Isaac Six, advocacy director for International Christian Concern (ICC), said in a statement. “Pastor Brunson has been held for far too long with no evidence whatsoever presented against him. It’s long past time that President Erdoğan intervenes in this case and immediately secures Andrew’s release.”
“No one’s freedom should ever be taken from them simply because of the faith they profess, and I look forward to continuing to work with members of Congress and others to highlight Andrew’s case,” he stated.