A Turkish court’s decision to return Andrew Brunson to prison at the conclusion of the July 18 hearing until the next hearing on October 12 has drawn intense, bipartisan criticism.
Late on July 18, President Donald Trump said on social media that not granting Brunson’s release was a “total disgrace” and added that the EPC Teaching Elder “has been held hostage far too long.”
On July 19, six Senators introduced a bill to direct the top U.S. executive at the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to block future loans to Turkey, except for humanitarian purposes. The bipartisan bill—dubbed the Turkey International Financial Institutions Act—was authored in response to “the unjust detention” of nearly two dozen U.S. citizens, including Brunson.
In a statement, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said, “Until Turkey begins acting like a NATO ally again, we will continue to pursue measures like sanctions and loan restrictions against them. We desire cooperation and strengthening ties between our countries, but the U.S. government has a responsibility to ensure the safety and welfare of its own people.” Lankford was joined in the proposed legislation by Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).
A spokesperson for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for a quick resolution to the impasse on July 19.
“We continue to call on the Turkish government to quickly resolve (Brunson’s) case in a timely and transparent and fair manner,” said Heather Nauert.
On July 18, the four senior members of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (USCSCE, also known as the Helsinki Commission) released statements condemning Brunson’s ongoing imprisonment.
“The cruelty of today’s decision is astonishing,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.)., USCSCE Co-Chair. “By extending Pastor Brunson’s indefinite detention and setting his next trial date for mid-October, the Turkish government has declared its intention to keep this innocent man in jail past the two-year anniversary of his arrest without conviction or any credible evidence against him. There is no room in NATO for hostage-taking. Pastor Brunson should be freed immediately.”
Sen. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), USCSCE Co-Chair, also called for Brunson’s immediate release, “otherwise this cruel abuse of a U.S. citizen should have serious consequences for our country’s relationship with the Turkish government.”
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), said the Turkish court’s decision “represents yet another miscarriage of justice in this case. I remain deeply concerned that Mr. Brunson remains in prison in Turkey. The Turkish government must drop its spurious charges and release Mr. Brunson immediately.”
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), described Brunson’s trial as “conspiratorial charges, anonymous witnesses, and political agendas, and bears no resemblance to a credible judicial process. Even as the Turkish government prepares to lift its nearly two-year state of emergency, we should not be fooled into thinking that the rule of law is returning to Turkey. Pastor Brunson’s wrongful imprisonment proves that nothing is likely to change.”
The USCSCE echoed the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which issued a statement on July 18 declaring “The government of Turkey continues to make a mockery of justice in its treatment of Pastor Brunson.”
EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah expressed gratitude for the statements of condemnation.
“I am thankful that so many of our government officials have recognized Andrew’s situation and are speaking out against his continued incarceration,” he said. “We will continue to persevere on Andrew’s behalf, and look forward to the day—hopefully very soon—when he steps off a plane onto American soil.”
Brunson is an EPC Teaching Elder from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey since 1993. He was been held since October 2016, and was indicted in March 2018 on charges of terrorism and espionage. Among the accusations in the indictment are charges that Brunson was a “member and executive” of the Fetullah Gülen organization—which the government of Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan blames for a failed July 2016 coup attempt and considers a terrorist group—and supported outlawed Kurdish militants. He faces up to 35 years in prison if found guilty.