On the one-year anniversary of Andrew Brunson’s imprisonment, a bipartisan U.S. commission on religious freedom criticized Turkey for detaining the North Carolina Christian pastor and pushed for his immediate release.
“The government of Turkey has fabricated charges against Pastor Brunson, largely based on purported ‘secret testimony,’ ” Kristina Arriaga, vice chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said in a statement Saturday after visiting Brunson in Kiriklar Prison in Izmir, Turkey. “He should be released immediately.”
Brunson is confined 24 hours a day to a cell with two other men, according to the commission. Suffering from “sustained stress” since his detainment, Brunson has lost more than 50 pounds, according to the statement.
Brunson is from Black Mountain and has ministered to Christians in Turkey for 23 years.
Turkey accuses the pastor of trying to overthrow its government and constitution, charges Brunson said “are completely false,” the commission’s release states. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison.
Arriaga visited Brunson with Sandra Jolley, also a vice chairwoman of the commission. Since Brunson’s imprisonment, only his lawyer, relatives and U.S. embassy officials had been able to see him.
“He lives in a world of psychic and physical dislocation,” Jolley said in the statement. “Despite a public veneer of a legal process, the truth is Pastor Brunson has had no due process, no true information about the charges against him, unreliable court dates, and no idea when he ever again will see his children or his country.”
During the visit, Brunson thanked “everyone who is advocating and praying for me,” according to the commission’s statement. “Knowing that I am not forgotten is important to me.”
Brunson was initially confined to a cell meant to accommodate eight men but was instead crowded with 21 prisoners, according to the commission. He was later moved to Kiriklar Prison.
Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan said recently that he would consider swapping Brunson for a cleric who is blamed for a 2016 coup attempt, multiple national media outlets reported. Turkey blames Gülen, a Pennsylvania-based cleric, for a July 2016 coup attempt. Gulen denies involvement, according to the Journal.
President Donald Trump’s administration has cast doubt on Erdogan’s offer, The Wall Street Journal reported. A State Department spokeswoman said the U.S. continues to evaluate Turkey’s request to extradite cleric Fethullah Gülen and that the U.S. believes Brunson was wrongly imprisoned, according to the report.
Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak