ANKARA, Turkey — An American pastor who has been imprisoned in Turkey for nearly a year on an accusation that he is a member of a “terrorist organization,” is now facing four new criminal charges, including espionage and attempting to overthrow the government.
“These ‘new’ charges, coming 322 days after his initial arrest in October of last year, are obviously just as false and ridiculous as the original charge of membership in an armed terrorist organization,” said Cece Heil of the American Center for Law and Justice in an update this week. “Disturbingly, the new charges are even more serious than the original charge and carry stiff sentences, if convicted.”
As previously reported, Andrew Brunson and his wife Norine, had been living in Turkey for over 20 years after moving to the country as a missionary from Black Mountain, North Carolina. Brunson pastored Protestant Resurrection Church in Izmir.
However, in October 2016, both Brunson and his wife were detained 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 last year.
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 ever since.
Last Thursday, Brunson was informed via a video conference with a Turkish judge that additional charges had been filed, including espionage, acquiring secret political and military information, seeking to overthrow the Turkish parliament and attempting to change the constitutional order.
“In his response to the judge, Pastor Andrew adamantly maintained his innocence and denied the charges. He pleaded with the judge that evidence be provided. He reiterated his sole purpose for being in Turkey for the past 23 years was ‘for one purpose only—to tell about Jesus Christ,'” Heil explained. “He stated further that he has ‘done this openly, in front of the government.'”
The ACLJ says that Brunson’s file is sealed, which makes defense difficult. However, his Turkish attorney, Aysun Akşehirlioğlu, said earlier this year, “[T]hey have not been able to set forth any concrete evidence showing that my client had membership or any other relationship with the organization cited. As is the fact that my client has had no relationship or communication with this organization.”
Brunson’s wife requested prayer on social media on Thursday, writing, “We continue to need your prayers—for miraculous release and for peace that passes understanding to guard our hearts and minds.”
In February, nearly 80 members of U.S. Congress signed a letter to Turkish President Recep Erdoğan, calling for the pastor’s release. Signees included 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.
President Trump and Vice President Pence have also requested that Turkish officials free Brunson.