By Aaron Earls
American pastor Andrew Brunson remains in a Turkish jail after a hearing today in which he faced accusations from former church members.
Brunson has been detained in Turkey since October 7, 2016, after being charged for terrorism for sharing the gospel.
On Wednesday (July 18), a Turkish court ruled that Brunson must remain in prison awaiting a fourth hearing on October 12, 2018.
“The government of Turkey continues to make a mockery of justice in its treatment of Pastor Brunson,” said U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga.
“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, Arriaga said. “Turkish authorities still have not provided one good reason for depriving Pastor Brunson of his liberties.”
The USCIRF reports that Brunson sat through two hours of testimony from former church members “making vague, unsubstantiated accusations.”
When the judge asked Brunson to reply to those witnesses, he responded, “My faith teaches me to forgive, so I forgive those who testified against me.”
"#PastorBrunson appeared serene as former church members made unsubstantiated and wildly vague accusations against him….when the judge asked him to reply, he said, 'My faith teaches me to forgive, so I forgive those who have testified against me.'"
– Vice Chair @ArriagaKristina pic.twitter.com/2cWd9IyJ8S
— USCIRF (@USCIRF) July 18, 2018
The courts allowed only one witness from the defense.
Brunson lived and worked in Turkey for more than 20 years before being detained in 2016 on accusations that he belonged to a terrorist organization.
In March, Turkish prosecutors indicted Brunson on terrorism and espionage related charges, seeking a sentence of up to 35 years in prison.
His arrest has had a “chilling effect” on Christians in Turkey, said the USCIRF.
In previous hearings, Brunson has denied any connection with terrorist organizations.
“I haven’t done anything against Turkey,” he said at a hearing in May. “On the contrary, I love Turkey. I have been praying for Turkey for 25 years.”
UPDATE: Brunson has been moved to house arrest. “This is welcome news. It is good that Pastor Brunson will have some relief after being held in a Turkish prison for more than 600 days. But it is not enough,” said Arriaga.
“The Turkish government has deprived this innocent man of his due process rights and liberty for too long, and it must completely release him. If it fails to do so, the Trump Administration and the Congress should respond strongly and swiftly with targeted sanctions against the authorities responsible.”
To President Erdogan and the Turkish government, I have a message, on behalf of the President of the United States of America. Release Pastor Andrew Brunson NOW or be prepared to face the consequences. If Turkey does not take immediate action to free this innocent man of faith and send him home to America, the United States will impose significant sanctions on Turkey until Pastor Andrew Brunson is free.
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.