Courts Split Over US Christians Caught Up In Turkey’s Crackdown

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Pastor Andrew Brunson
Pastor Andrew Brunson

Last week, dozens of US lawmakers called for Turkey to release American pastor Andrew Brunson, who remains imprisoned there with limited access to his attorney and few details about the charges against him.

“We respectfully ask you to consider Brunson’s case and how the recent treatment of Brunson places significant strain not only on him and his family, but also on the robust bilateral relationship between the United States and Turkey,” read the letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and signed by 78 members of Congress.

Brunson’s wife, Norine, is praying the letter comes to the attention of President Donald Trump. After visiting her husband recently in prison—where they have been permitted to communicate through glass—she told supporters, he was “discouraged about the lack (seemingly) of action from the new administration.”

Despite attempts to appeal his case and ongoing campaigns calling for his release, Brunson faces an uncertain future in the country where he has pastored for 23 years.

The only American Christian detained in the Muslim-majority nation, Brunson lost his initial attempt to appeal unfounded terrorism charges, and advocates aren’t sure if he’ll be able to continue to the appeals process to a higher court.

After being denied access to embassy officials or legal counsel for months, Brunson was finally granted visits with his attorney—though under the surveillance of the government, according to the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), the group leading advocacy efforts on behalf of his family.

“Although Pastor Andrew has finally been allowed a family visit and some access to his attorney, he is still wrongfully imprisoned and the charge he faces is serious,” the ACLJ stated.

The 48-year-old North Carolina native is accused of “membership in an armed terrorist organization.” The Turkish government has not provided documentation to reveal the source of the claim, evidence against him, or even to which organization he allegedly belongs. But proceedings indicated that the charge is related to ongoing efforts to quash the Gülen movement, blamed for a coup last summer.

“Turkish President Erdoğan sees anti-Christian conspiracy theories as an effective strategy for galvanizing popular support for his one-man rule,” said Aykan Erdemir, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and former member of the Turkish Parliament, in The Wall Street Journal.

Brunson’s case is the most severe in a string of recent government actions against expat pastors—among thousands of journalists, teachers, and others arrested for suspected dissidence. Over the past year, multiple Christian leaders in Turkey faced deportation or were denied re-entry, including American street evangelist David Byle, as CT reported last year.

Over the past year, Turkey rose from No. 45 to No. 37 on Open Doors’ World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is hardest to be a Christian.

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