In the course of meetings in Washington DC with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President Trump called on Erdoğan to intervene to secure the release of U.S. Christian pastor Andrew Brunson, who was arrested and imprisoned last year.
“President Trump raised the incarceration of Pastor Andrew Brunson and asked that the Turkish government expeditiously return him to the United States,” the White House said in a statement Tuesday.
During his presidential campaign, President Trump promised to come to the defense of persecuted Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere, and advocates have been waiting to see how and when the President would begin to fulfill that promise.
Pastor Brunson and his wife were arrested in October as part of a crackdown following a failed military coup. The couple were detained on immigration violation charges while running a small church in Izmir, on Turkey’s western coast. The government later upped the charges to accusations of terrorism, although to date no evidence has been provided for this claim.
According to the Turkish media, in December 2016, Brunson was charged with membership in the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ), named after U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen who has been accused of masterminding the July 2016 failed coup attempt.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a religious freedom advocacy group, submitted a formal statement to the UN Human Rights Council on behalf of Brunson Monday, appealing for the pastor’s swift release. They also noted that Turkey was in violation of essential principles of liberty and human rights simply because of his peaceful Christian expression as pastor of a Christian church in Turkey for 23 years.
On Tuesday, Jay Sekulow of the ACLJ praised Trump’s Christian advocacy with president Erdoğan, noting that the White House had informed him that President Trump and Vice President Pence had raised the case of Pastor Brunson three times in the course of their meeting with the Turkish president.
“This is exactly what we asked the President to do and is a major sign of significant progress toward bringing Pastor Andrew home,” he wrote.
“Pastor Andrew – a U.S. citizen – has been wrongfully imprisoned in Turkey for more than seven months because of his Christian faith,” he said.
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