A Turkish court has decided to continue holding American Pastor Andrew Brunson in prison, to await a fourth hearing on October 12. Brunson, who has been in jail in Turkey since October 7, 2016, is accused of “membership in an armed terrorist organization.” His first court hearing took place on April 16 this year, after 18 months in detention.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) condemned the charges and is calling for Brunson’s immediate release. In a statement released on July 18, USCIRF Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga excoriated the Turkish government, which she accused of “continu[ing] to make a mockery of justice in its treatment of Pastor Brunson.”
Denouncing Brunson’s case as a “miscarriage of justice,” Arriaga added, “Turkish authorities still have not provided one good reason for depriving Pastor Brunson of his liberties. The Trump Administration and the Congress should continue to apply pressure, including using targeted sanctions against officials connected to this case, until Pastor Brunson is released.”
Brunson was charged with terrorism (including “Christianization”) and espionage, which carry a sentence of up to 35 years’ imprisonment. According to the lengthy indictment, the pastor is linked to the movement of Fethullah Gülen — an Islamic cleric who has lived in self-exile in the United States for three decades – and whom the Turkish government accuses of plotting the failed coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July 2016.