Pompeo: U.S. Doing ‘Enormous Work’ to Gain Freedom for U.S. Pastor in Turkey

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Penny Starr/Breitbart News

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Fox News’s Shannon Bream discussed on Thursday the fate of Andrew Brunson, an American pastor imprisoned in Turkey for almost two years on trumped-up terrorism charges.

A reporter noted that Turkey is a U.S. ally and yet is holding an American citizen with little evidence supporting the allegations that, despite being a Christian pastor, Brunson is aiding an Islamic sect and a Marxist terrorist group.

“There’s been enormous work done by this administration to try and gain the release of Pastor Brunson,” Pompeo said.

“We also have others held in Turkey, other Americans,” he stated, continuing, “others who worked for the United States held in Turkey today.” 

“We’re working diligently on that case and, frankly, every place an American is held,” Pompeo noted, adding that the Brunson case illustrates why advancing religious liberty around the world is so important.

“This is one example of why religious freedom matters, and so we’re going to have over 80 delegations here at the State Department in a handful of days, 40 of my counterparts, foreign ministers,” Pompeo said, citing an unprecedented international religious freedom gathering taking place at the State Department next week.  

“This is a historic opportunity,” Pompeo said. “Vice President [Mike Pence] will be speaking at the event.”

“We believe that we can increase the capacity for human dignity and religious freedom by gathering the nations of the world and working together to get outcomes so we can prevent situations just like the one that Pastor Brunson is experiencing today,” Pompeo said.

As Breitbart News reported:

A Turkish court, to the dismay of U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, on Wednesday, ruled against releasing Andrew Brunson, an American pastor imprisoned on terrorism and spying charges pending trial.

In a crackdown launched in the wake of the failed coup in July 2016, Turkish authorities arrested Brunson in October of that year while he was serving a small Protestant congregation in Turkey’s third largest city of Izmir, located in the province of the same name where he is now facing trial.

The former pastor of the Izmir Resurrection Church, who denied the charges, is facing up to 35 years in jail if found guilty.

The ruling on Wednesday is the third time the Turkish court refused to release Brunson, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).

“President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has previously linked his fate to that of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-based Muslim cleric Turkey blames for the coup attempt and whose extradition Ankara seeks,” Reuters reported, adding, “The Second High Penal Court in [the Aegean province of] İzmir decided to continue listening to the testimonies of witnesses in the next hearing on Oct. 12.”

Brunson is originally from North Carolina but has lived with his family as a pastor and missionary in Turkey for more than 20 years. He was charged with aiding the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ), which Ankara blames for the failed 2016 coup attempt, as well as the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The group, led by U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, is an Islamic organization known for its worldwide network of charter schools and officially calls itself Hizmet. Gulen denies any involvement with the coup.

Breitbart News reported that Turkey’s Foreign Ministry responded Thursday to Trump’s tweet about Brunson’s treatment as a “total disgrace,” insisting that the detention is in keeping with “legal process” required for the country’s national security.

“The Brunson case is a legal process,” Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy said on Thursday. “And the process is ongoing.” 

He is able to meet with his family, lawyers and consulate officials regularly,” Aksoy said. “This judicial process is conducted on the principle of the rule of law.”

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