WASHINGTON, DC – Christians gathered in front of the White House on Wednesday to show support for Andrew Brunson, the American-born pastor jailed in Turkey on charges of aiding Islamic extremists and Marxist Kurdish groups, despite the fact that Brunson has been a Christian missionary and preacher in that country for more than two decades and beloved by those who know him.
“We consider him a Middle Eastern Christian now because he’s served with us 28 years,” Magdi Khalil, a member of Coptic Solidarity and director of the Middle East Freedom Forum in Virginia, told Breitbart News.
“We raise this issue and we will continue to raise this issue until they free Pastor Andrew,” Khalil said.
DeDe Laugesen represented Save the Persecuted Christians (STPC) Coalition at the protest. She told Breitbart News many Americans do not know that as many as 215 million Christians face “high levels of persecution” around the globe.
Carrying an American flag, a “Save the Persecuted Christians” banner, and chanting “Free Pastor Andrew, Mr. Trump you can do it,” the protesters hoped to draw attention to Brunson’s plight, particularly in light of President Donald Trump’s recent success with the release of Americans jailed in North Korea.
As Breitbart News reported, Brunson has already been in prison for more than 18 months after he was accused of supporting Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric living in Pennsylvania, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Marxist, U.S.-designated terrorist group.
Ankara blames Gulen for organizing the failed coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016, a claim Gulen has denied.
On March 13, Turkish prosecutors indicted Brunson on terrorism and espionage-related charges and the first hearing took place on April 16.
He appeared again in court last month, but the government delayed the trial until July 18 and ordered Brunson remain jailed.
The Trump administration has said it is working to bring Brunson home to his family in North Carolina and The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) is also working to gain his freedom.
“Faith McDonnell, International Religious Liberty Program Director at the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) and a founding member of Save The Persecuted Christians, said she is delighted STPC is working in partnership with Coptic Solidarity to call for an end to the unjust imprisonment of Brunson,” a press release announcing the protest said.
“President Trump, Ambassador Sam Brownback and others in the U.S. government have declared their commitment to seeing Pastor Brunson released, and our protest is meant to encourage them to keep on pressuring Turkey until he comes home,” McDonnell, a longtime activist for persecuted Christians and Breitbart contributor, said.
“Pastor Brunson has committed no crime, but President Erdoğan is keeping him in prison in order to exchange him with U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen,” Khalil said. “This is political blackmail.”
“Raising awareness is an important first step, especially as Christian persecution occurs so routinely it rarely makes headlines,” the press release said. “For example, according to Open Doors, 255 Christians are killed worldwide every month; 104 Christians are abducted; 180 Christian women are raped, sexually assaulted or forced into marriage; 160 Christians are detained or imprisoned without trial, and 66 churches are attacked.”
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