Release Pastor Andrew Brunson or face large sanctions from the United States. That was the direct warning from President Donald J. Trump to Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan brought by Vice President Mike Pence to the State Department’s first Ministerial on Religious Freedom Thursday.
“As we gather here today, there’s one victim of religious persecution that bears mentioning as well. A victim of persecution who’s not with us. An American named Pastor Andrew Brunson,” said Pence. He spoke of Brunson’s two decades living in Turkey with his family, “sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ faithfully in his ministry.”
“In 2016 Pastor Brunson was arrested by Turkish authorities as part of a massive crackdown following the failed coup attempt,” said Pence. “Tens of thousands of journalists, activists, judges, army officers, teachers and others were arrested and remain in prison to this day.”
The Vice President continued:
Pastor Brunson was imprisoned without being charged for more than a year. The Turkish government finally indicted him. They accused him allegedly of dividing and separating Turkey by simply spreading his Christian faith. Pastor Andrew Brunson is an innocent man. There is no credible evidence against him.
Our entire administration has worked tirelessly to secure Pastor Brunson’s release. Yesterday Turkey released Pastor Brunson from prison only to place him under house arrest. This is a welcome first step, but it is not good enough.
Pence spoke with Pastor Brunson and Brunson’s wife Maureen after his release from prison and into house arrest on Wednesday.
“I know that his faith will sustain him, but it shouldn’t have to. Pastor Andrew Brunson deserves to be free,” said Pence.
Brunson’s daughter Jacklyn was in the ministerial event audience for Pence’s speech. The vice president promised her that he and President Trump would “continue to fight to secure [her] father’s full release until he is restored to [her] family and returns to the United States of America.”
“To believers across America, I say: pray for Pastor Brunson. While he is out of jail he is still not free,” said the vice president.
Pence then voiced a message that he said came directly from President Donald Trump himself:
To President Erdogan and the Turkish government, I have a message on behalf 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.
President Trump backed up the warning with a tweet shortly after Pence’s speech:
The United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being. He is suffering greatly. This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2018
“The United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being. He is suffering greatly. This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!”