Pray for Andrew Brunson

AMERICAN PASTOR'S TRIAL CONTINUES

The third court hearing for jailed US pastor Andrew Brunson dashes hopes of his imminent release.

A photo of the Rev. Andrew Brunson during his time in prison. Photo courtesy of World Witness

The court scheduled Andrew Brunson’s next hearing for 12 October.

With reports from a World Watch Monitor feed, some observers had believed that Turkey might release Brunson, who has been detained for almost two years, since Oct 2016.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga, who was present at the hearing in Aliaga, near Izmir commented on the developments.

“The government of Turkey continues to make a mockery of justice in its treatment of Pastor Brunson. Today I was hoping to see the judge order his complete release and put an end to the miscarriage of justice that Pastor Brunson’s entire case represents. Turkish authorities still have not provided one good reason for depriving Pastor Brunson of his liberties. The Trump Administration and the Congress should continue to apply pressure, including using targeted sanctions against officials connected to this case, until Pastor Brunson is released.”

Kristina Arriaga, Vice-Chair, US Commission on International Religious Freedom

The court heard testimony from four witnesses: three for the prosecution, and one for the defence. For nearly two hours during today’s hearing, former church members testified against Pastor Brunson, making vague, unsubstantiated accusations.  When the judge asked Brunson to reply to the witnesses, he said: “My faith teaches me to forgive, so I forgive those who testified against me.”

Brunson’s lawyer’s request for his first choice defence witness was refused, since the witness himself was also implicated in the indictment, so another witness, less familiar with Brunson, had to appear instead.

Brunson’s supporters were disappointed at today’s outcome, having been encouraged by recent talks at the diplomatic level. You can read the complete World Watch Monitor article here

Andrew and his wife Norine were originally arrested on 7 October 2016 and held in an immigration holding facility pending deportation. Norine was subsequently released, but Andrew was detained without bail due to allegations linking him to ‘terrorist groups’ and accusing him of ‘missionary activities’.

The real reason for his arrest is because of his work leading a church in the Turkish city of Izmir, which he has done for the last 25 years, is seen as ‘aiding terror organisations’. “There is evidence that shows Brunson was arrested due to his faith,” Andrew’s lawyer Ismail Cem Halavurt has said.

Andrew rejected all the claims that have been made against him of links to terrorist organisations and espionage against the Turkish state. He stated that he is a servant of God, and his motive in coming to Turkey was to preach Jesus Christ and raise disciples. He emphasized that he loved Turkey, has been praying for the country for 25 years and has done nothing wrong.

SIGNS OF HOPE

As Andrew’s third hearing approached, there were signs of hope. American senators Jeanne Shaheen and Lindsey Graham visited Andrew Brunson in prison on 29 June, and then met with Turkey’s President Erdogan to appeal directly for Andrew's release. Senator Shaheen has been a vocal member of the senate, proposing sanctions against Turkey over Andrew’s imprisonment.
The senators were received at short notice, while the president was holding an executive meeting, and the positive atmosphere of the discussions are seen as reasons to be optimistic.

Now, till the next court hearing in October, Andrew remains in prison. At times the conditions he has been kept in have been grim; in one prison where he was held, two dozen inmates are crammed into a cell designed for eight. The hot summer weather has made these conditions worse, and Andrew has found it hard to sleep.

Norine has written on their facebook page: “He (Andrew) has been calmer recently as is trying to see things through the lenses of demonstrating the value, the worth of Jesus - that those whom He loves and who love Him are willing to suffer for Him.

“He often prays, ‘Father, cause to burst into flame in me the love you have for Jesus, that I may be a fervent, ardent lover of Him, willing to undergo whatever is asked.’”

Please stand with Andrew, Norine and their family in prayer at this time. Please pray for Andrew’s innocence to be established before the court of law, and that the judge will order his release. Please pray for Andrew, that he will see God’s abiding presence through this time, and that he will be able to express forgiveness to his accusers.

Background and more details:

After 23 years in open church ministry in Turkey, Brunson was detained during Ankara’s widespread crackdown against the government-labelled Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organisation (FETO), led by a self-exiled Turkish cleric living in the US for the past two decades and accused of launching the deadly coup attempt.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has insisted repeatedly that Gülen be extradited back to Turkey, declaring 14 boxes of documents had been sent to the US Justice Department to prove Gülen’s guilt. The US has cited a lack of sufficient judicial evidence to authorize US courts to expedite the aged imam’s forced return to Turkey.

Last September, Erdogan publicly proposed Brunson as a political bargaining chip, suggesting that if the US would send Gülen back to Turkey, the American pastor could be sent back to the US. The offer came four months after US President Donald Trump had surprised the Turkish President during his state visit to Washington, asking him in person to release Brunson. Most recently, after the first trial hearing against the pastor, Trump declared in an April 18 tweet that Brunson was “on trial and being persecuted in Turkey for no reason”.

Reporting from Washington, Hurriyet Daily News columnist Cansu Çamlibel said on 28 April: “There has been no single conversation between Trump and Erdogan where the US President did not [say] Brunson’s name.”

Only seven weeks ago, the pastor and his Turkish lawyer finally learned the specific allegations on which his charges of alleged espionage and terrorism are based, most of them from “secret witnesses”. The prosecution has demanded 35 years in prison if Brunson is convicted of these charges, all of which he denied in his six-hour defence before Izmir’s 2nd Criminal Court on 16 April.

More than 50 members of the European Parliament wrote to President Erdogan, protesting Turkey’s treatment of the Protestant pastor “as a bargaining chip”. Expressing “deep concern about the wrongful imprisonment of Pastor Andrew Brunson,” the letter reiterated the Parliament’s resolution on 7 February, urging Turkey to respect its European and international commitments on the prohibition of arbitrary detention by releasing Brunson.

“Pastor Andrew Brunson has been living peacefully in Turkey for 23 years. We believe he is an innocent political prisoner; therefore, we urge you again to release him without delay.”

European Parliament members

Pastor Brunson has written powerful notes from and letters sharing his heart and faith from the prison. In one of them he writes, “Let it be clear, I am in prison, not for anything I have done wrong, but because of who I am—a Christian pastor. I desperately miss my wife and children. Yet, I believe this to be true—it is an honour to suffer for Jesus Christ, as many have before me.”

As the trial approaches, please stand in prayer with Pastor Brunson, his wife Norine, and their family.

Andrew Brunson timeline

(World Watch Monitor)

1993 – present US Protestant pastor Andrew Brunson involved in legally recognised church-related Christian ministry in Turkey.

 

2016: 15 July Deadly military coup attempt against Turkish government fails; Ankara blames network of US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen for coup, seeks Gulen’s extradition from US.

 

20 July Turkish President declares state of emergency (still in force), suspending certain judicial practices; 110,000 public officials dismissed, 35,000 Gulen suspects under arrest, awaiting trial.

 

7 October Brunson detained with wife Norine, in Alsancak police station, Izmir; told he would be deported within 15 days as “threat to national security”.

 

19 October Norine Brunson released from police detention.

 

20 October Andrew Brunson moved to Harmandali Detention Centre (outskirts of Izmir), placed in solitary confinement.

 

9 December Summoned (with lawyer) to closed hearing at Izmir 2nd Criminal Court.Charges changed to “membership in an [unnamed] armed terrorist organisation”. Placed under formal arrest in overcrowded group cell at Aliaga Sakran Prison (45 miles from Izmir).

 

20 December US Senator James Lankford meets Turkish Justice Ministry officials in Ankara, the capital.

 

29 December Izmir court rejects lawyer’s appeal to release Brunson.

 

2017: 3 January Unnamed senior Turkish official to Wall Street Journal says claim that Brunson’s arrest related to his religious affiliation is "ludicrous".

 

15 February 78 US Congress members write to Turkish President Erdogan, urging him to release Brunson.

 

9 March Turkish Prime Minister Yildirim tells USA Today it's a “nonsensical” idea that Brunson held hostage until Turkish cleric Gulen’s extradition from US; says pastor’s case could be "accelerated".

 

28 March Brunson sends appeal letter to US President Trump.

 

30 March US Secretary of State Tillerson meets Norine Brunson in Ankara.

 

15 May American Center for Law & Justice files petition to UN Human Rights Council for Brunson’s release.

 

16 May Trump asks Erdogan in person during Washington DC visit to release Brunson.

 

Late May-June Flurry of Turkish media allegations against Brunson link him with Gulen movement, armed PKK separatists, CIA, "missionary" activities.

 

30 May Erdogan promises "retaliation" vs. countries holding Gulen movement suspects.

 

7 July Washington Post reports Turkey’s swap offer to exchange Brunson for release of millionaire Turkish-Iranian prisoner Reza Zarrab, facing trial in New York for evading US-led Iran sanctions.

 

17 July Brunson moved to shared cell in Kiriklar Maximum Security Prison in Izmir’s Buca district.

 

24 July New charges of “espionage & insurgency” against Brunson reported in Turkish press.

 

24 August Izmir judge initiates video conference call with Brunson and his lawyer; pastor informed his official criminal charges are “spying and insurgency”.

 

25 August New "state of emergency" Executive Order No. 694 authorises Erdogan to arrange to swap Turkish citizen prisoners for foreigners jailed in Turkey.

 

28 September Erdogan publicly declares swap offer of Brunson for Gulen’s extradition.

 

5 October Two representatives of US Commission for International Religious Freedom visit Brunson at Kiriklar Prison.

 

15 November Brunson’s daughter Jacqueline addresses US Helsinki Commission hearing, Washington DC.

 

2018: 3 January Brunson’s 50th birthday.

 

11 January Erdogan vows no extraditions to US until Gulen returned from US to Turkey.

 

23 January US delegation visiting Ankara raises Brunson’s "wrongful detention".

 

9 March Jacqueline Brunson addresses UN Human Rights Commission, Geneva.

 

13 March Written indictment against Brunson leaked to Turkish press.

 

16 March Indictment accepted by Izmir 2nd Criminal Court; first trial date set for 17 April.

 

26 March Brunson’s North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis visits him at Kiriklar Prison.

 

17 April First trial hearing: Brunson denies all charges, 3 prosecution witnesses testify; observed by US Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback and Senator Thom Tillis.

 

Read complete article published by World Watch Monitor by Barbara Baker here.