Turkish officials are demanding a sentence of 35 years in prison for American pastor and North Carolina native Andrew Craig Brunson, who was indicted in Turkey for allegedly committing crimes on behalf of terror organizations.
Brunson, 50, was running a small church in Izmir and lived in Turkey for the past 23 years. He and his wife, Norine, were originally detained in October of 2016 on charges of immigration violation. Norine was later released, but authorities continued to hold Andrew and later upped the charges against him to terrorism.
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Brunson was held for close to a year without any charges and without access to a lawyer. Last summer, the Turkish government accused him of “spying” and “insurgency” against the government and membership in an unnamed terror organization.
The organization was later named as the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), a group accused of being behind the July 2016 coup in 2016. The organization is part of the network of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s arch rival Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Islamic cleric living in the U.S. The current indictment also mentions a secret witness who said Brunson was also aiding the PKK, a Kurdish terror group, and was agitating for an independent Kurdistan.
During a visit to Turkey last month, then-secretary of state Rex Tillerson said, “We continue to have serious concerns…about cases against U.S. citizens who have been arrested under the state of emergency,” referring to the sweeping arrests made in every sector of Turkish society in the months following the coup.
Last August, Tillerson tweeted:
“The US continues to advocate for the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been wrongfully imprisoned in Turkey.”
For his part, Erdogan appears to be holding Brunson as leverage for an exchange for Gulen. Last September, Erdogan said, “They want a pastor from us, you have a pastor, too. Extradite him so that we can prosecute him.”