New details have come to light about an America pastor who has lived in Turkey for 23 years and was arrested in the sweep of “dissidents” following the failed coup attempt in Turkey in the summer of 2016.
Human rights activists viewed the arrests as an excuse for Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to round up all those with whose politics – or religion – he disagreed.
Pastor Andrew Brunson, 49, was held without charges for close to a year. Last August, the Turkish government charged him with “spying” and “insurgency” against the government and membership in an unnamed armed terrorist organization, demanding the that he be given four consecutive life sentences.
The organization was later named as the network of Erdogan’s arch rival, Fethullah Gullen, a Turkish cleric living in America whom Erdogan claims was behind the coup.
To date, the Erdogan has ordered the rounding up of more than 50,000 Turks – including military officers, judges, police, professors, lawyers and journalists – whom he accuses of being “Gulenists.”
For almost a year, Brunson and his lawyer were denied access to the legal files containing the charges against the pastor.
As reported by World Watch Monitor, “According to a 24 August release by the state-run Anadolu news agency, investigations by the chief prosecutor’s office in the coastal city of Izmir submitted ‘new’ evidence that Brunson had obtained confidential political and military information for espionage purposes, specifically to ‘overthrow’ the Turkish Parliament and government and undermine the constitutional order of the state.”
The charges were labeled “absurd” by Pastor Ihsan Ozbek, head of the Association of Protest Churches in Turkey.
According to an opinion piece in The Washington Post, Erdogan offered to exchange Brunson for Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian millionaire imprisoned in the U.S. since March 2016 on charges of money laundering and bank fraud to evade international sanctions against Iran.
U.S. President Donald Trump publicly asked Erdogan to release Brunson when the two met in Washington in May.
In an August tweet, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, “The US continues to advocate for the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been wrongfully imprisoned in Turkey.”