April 18, 2018
They may not have had any evidence against American pastor Andrew Brunson, but that didn't stop Turkish officials from holding a 13-hour hearing. For the North Carolina father, who's spent the last 500 days in jail, it was another grueling chapter in the persecution of an innocent man.
Facing up to 35 years in prison, Brunson had hoped the day would end in his release. But despite the high-profile presence of U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, the outcome didn't quite go as planned. Although the State Department argues the Turkish government has no credible proof to convict Pastor Brunson, he's back behind bars until another court date on May 7.
"We believe that Turkey is a state bound by the rule of law, and we have faith in the Turkish people's commitment to justice. We hope that the judicial system in Turkey will resolve his case in a timely, fair, and transparent manner," U.S. officials said. The charges, that Brunson was involved in a terrorist organization, all came from two "secret" witnesses who refused to testify publicly. "Why," he said to the court, "would I do the things that you say... I did when my whole life and ministry here in Turkey would be at risk?"
President Trump, who's been working behind the scenes for Brunson's release, tweeted his support for the American yesterday. "Pastor Andrew Brunson, a fine gentleman and Christian leader in the United States, is on trial and being persecuted in Turkey for no reason. They call him a spy, but I am more a spy than he is. Hopefully he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!" For the White House, which has made religious liberty a top priority of the administration, the president's involvement sends a powerful message to Turkey – and any nation – that America will not sit back and let other countries' trample the freedom of people of faith.
On Tuesday's "Washington Watch," Tony had the chance to catch up with Ambassador Brownback on his way back from the trial. The fight, he said, is far from over.
President Trump has raised this with President Erdogan. It's been communicated at that level. It's been communicated by the vice president, by the secretary of state, and then Senator Tillis and I were there in the courtroom yesterday and were very hopeful yesterday that he would be released, and he and his wife could fly home. And not only did they not do that, but they returned him to the first prison he was in, where Pastor Brunson had great difficulties. So I was meeting with the Turkish officials today, the deputy prime minister, people in the foreign affairs ministry, [telling them], 'You've got to get him in a better condition, and this is wrong.' There are serious consequences to the U.S.-Turkey relationship centered around what happens to Pastor Brunson.
We're going to keep the pressure on, and aggressively.
As harrowing as Pastor Brunson's experience has been, it would be a whole lot worse without the help of the current administration. At least he and his family know they have an advocate in Donald Trump and his entire leadership team. Under President Obama, who knows what they would have had? In the meantime, we continue to pray for his release -- and an end to the suffering of so many men and women like him.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.