Senators press for release of Andrew Brunson, threaten further legislative action

 
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Clockwise (from top left): Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Thom Tillis, R-N.C.)

In response to Andrew Brunson’s return to custody following hearings on July 18, U.S. Senators Thom Tillis, Jeanne Shaheen, James Lankford, and Lindsey Graham issued a joint statement calling for his immediate release. The court in Aliaga, Turkey, remanded the EPC Teaching Elder to prison until the trial resumes on October 12.

“Pastor Andrew Brunson has languished in a Turkish prison for the last two years, causing tremendous hardship and heartache for him and his family,” the senators said in the statement. “He is an innocent man and has been unlawfully detained simply because he is an American pastor who assists all those in need, no matter their ethnicity or religious beliefs. Turkey and the United States are longstanding NATO allies and it is imperative to the interests of both nations that Turkey starts behaving like one. We call for the immediate release of Pastor Brunson and other American citizens currently detained in Turkey, including Serkan Golge. We encourage the Administration to use all the tools at their disposal to ensure the release of these innocent people before Congress is forced to press for even stricter legislative measures that will be difficult to unwind.”

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Andrew Brunson

Brunson has been imprisoned in Turkey since October 7, 2016. In April, he was indicted on charges related to terrorism and espionage. He faces up to 35 years in prison.

In April, the four senators led the effort to craft a bipartisan letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan calling for Brunson’s release. The letter was signed by 71 senators. Tillis has visited Turkey twice, including meeting with Brunson and attending his trial on April 16. Shaheen and Graham visited Brunson in prison in June, and also met with Erdoğan and pressed for Brunson’s release.

In previous legislative actions, Tillis and Shaheen secured a provision that directs the Secretary of Defense to submit a plan to Congress to remove Turkey from participation in the F-35 fighter jet program. The provision is based in part on legislation introduced by Lankford, Tillis, and Shaheen. Lankford and Shaheen have worked with Graham to include sanctions in this year’s State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs appropriations bill. Those measures target Turkish officials complicit in the unlawful arrest of Americans.

The senators are part of a growing chorus of condemnation in Washington, D.C., against the court’s ongoing decision to keep Brunson imprisoned.

In an article titled “The Brunson farce” published July 17 by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) in response to speculation following discussions between Erdoğan and President Trump, Aykan Erdemir wrote that Brunson should be released “not because of a deal, but because there isn’t a shred of evidence against him.” Erdemir is a senior fellow at the FDD and a former member of the Turkish parliament.

On July 18, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued a statement declaring that “Turkey continues to make a mockery of justice in its treatment of Pastor Brunson.” The USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission.

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