In a grave turn of events, a Turkish prosecutor has demanded what amounts to a life sentence for American Pastor Andrew Brunson, who sits in a Turkish jail cell at the mercy of a so-called “ally” of his home country.
Brunson, a Presbyterian pastor from North Carolina, devoted 23 years of his life ministering to the Christian community in Turkey until he was arrested 17 months ago. He was swept up in mass arrests of “dissidents” following Turkey’s failed coup attempt in 2016. He was accused of membership in an armed terrorist organization and military espionage, bizarre charges by any standards given his background as a minister of peace, love and forgiveness.
On October 7, 2016, Brunson arrived home to find a written summons requiring him to report with his passport to a local police station. Believing he was due for a renewal of his visa, Brunson reported immediately to the Izmir police, only to be arrested and later told he was considered a “national security risk.”
Brunson’s Turkish attorney has now confirmed the prosecution has submitted an indictment asking for a sentence of 35 years. The pastor is 50 years old, so such a request essentially becomes a life sentence. The court now has 15 days to decide whether the case should proceed.
Since his arrest, there’s been not a scrap of evidence produced against him, reports the American Center for Law and Justice, which has been trying to win his release.
“It seems Pastor Brunson has been locked away simply because of his Christian faith,” says Jordan Sekulow of the ACLJ.
The ACLJ has appeared before Congress, President Trump and the United Nations on behalf of Pastor Brunson, to no avail.
“This isn’t over. We will continue to work diligently with the State Department and incoming Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, until Pastor Andrew is home safe [with his wife and children],” Sekulow said.
More than 451,000 Americans have signed the petition as of Wednesday, March 14.
This is not North Korea or Iran we are talking about. Turkey is a U.S. and NATO ally. Still, the Trump administration has been unable to win his release.
Brunson has been living in Turkey since 1993.
His imprisonment has been a strong sign that the tiny Christian minority in Turkey – which is 99 percent Muslim – now lives in a climate of fear and intimidation.
Last summer the Turkish government announced it had seized ownership of 50 churches nationwide.
Turkey, once held up as an example of moderate Islam friendly to Western values, has been sliding backward over the last decade. The latest crackdowns on Christianity signal an acceleration of its return to Islamic Sharia law under the regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkey has significant Islamic demons in its past.
The last time Turkey was ruled by Sharia, under the Ottoman Empire, it slaughtered more than 1.5 million Christians of Greek, Armenian and Syrian descent.
By refusing to release Brunson, the Turkish government led by Erdogan appears to be sending a message to both its own people and the outside world that Turkey is indeed now an Islamic state and will not tolerate Christian evangelizing, say legal experts and fellow missionaries in the United States.
The announcement of the new charges came amid an ongoing crackdown on Christian activity, all of which followed the attempted coup of July 2016.
Barbabas Aid, which aides persecuted Christians worldwide, reported as early as November 2016 “a climate of growing instability and persecution of Christians in Turkey.”
Brunson lived and ministered in the modern-day town of Izmir, which was once the biblical city of Smyrna.
Christian author/filmmaker Joel Richardson traveled to Turkey in 2015 to capture documentary footage of Erdogan’s transformation of Turkey from a Western-friendly nation in the mold of Ataturk into an Islamic state.
He urges all Christians to contact the Trump administration and demand action.
“Here we have a nation, Turkey, that is alleged to be an ally, a NATO member, who has illegally imprisoned an American pastor on what are clearly bogus charges and few in the Christian community are raising their voice to call upon President Trump to demand his immediate release,” he said.
Erdogan has openly bragged about imprisoning foreign citizens for the purpose of using them as bargaining chips to secure the extradition of his enemies, Richardson said.
One “enemy” Erdogan may be demanding from the United States is Fethula Mohamed Gulen, a rival Islamist living in the Pocono Mountains of eastern Pennsylvania. From his gated fortress in the Poconos, Gulen runs the second largest chain of tax-funded charter schools in America, but he is accused of subversive activities back home in Turkey.
“American citizens are not political pawns,” Richardson said of Brunson. “President Trump must call out Turkish President Erdogan and demand Pastor Brunson’s immediate release. It’s been far too long.”
“We are demanding his immediate release. He has committed no crime. He suffers only because of his faith in Jesus Christ. He must be reunited with his family.”
A recent report on Turkey by the European Commission highlighted the ongoing persecution of Christians, stating: “Hate speech and hate crimes against Christians and Jews continued to be repeatedly reported.”
“Typical incidents recorded by churches include Islamic anti-Christian posters and graffiti being deliberately placed near church buildings, anonymous threats sent by text and email to church pastors, as well as physical attacks,” Barnabas Aid reports. “In many cases, no official action is taken by police, despite crimes being reported.”
Erdogan’s government has also presided over the conversion of the Istanbul landmark Haga Sophia shrine into a mosque. The iconic Byzantine structure is highly symbolic as it was originally built as Eastern Christianity’s most important church. It had operated as a museum but in late 2016 the first Muslim call to prayer was heard inside the former church in 85 years.