Andrew Brunson, an evangelical Protestant pastor from the United States who has been held in a Turkish prison on spurious terrorism charges, will reportedly soon be returned to the United States, after a Turkish court on Friday lifted his sentence of house arrest. The Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, applauds this action, after having called for the release of Pastor Brunson from his unjust imprisonment for quite some time.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) explained last July that Pastor Brunson was “facing up to 35 years imprisonment on false terrorism and espionage related charges.” According to the Wall Street Journal, on Friday “the court found Andrew Brunson guilty of aiding terror groups and sentenced him to more than three years in prison, but freed him because of time already served. Mr. Brunson had rejected the charges.”
USCIRF reported that Pastor Brunson “was initially detained by Turkish officials on October 7, 2016 and accused of membership in an armed terrorist organization. On March 13, 2018, Turkish prosecutors indicted Pastor Brunson on terrorism and espionage related charges, seeking a sentence of up to 35 years’ imprisonment. His first hearing took place on April 16, 2018. Pastor Brunson has lived and worked in Turkey for over 22 years.”
The charges against Pastor Brunson, however, were entirely without foundation. The American Center of Law and Justice (ACLJ) explained at the time of the July hearing that “Pastor Andrew is innocent. This isn’t a real trial -- it's a show trial. He’s being held as a political prisoner because of his Christian faith.”
The Turkish government, however, initially did not even allow Pastor Brunson the right to defend himself against these false accusations. Instead, their proceedings against him on these trumped-up charges were as hollow and dishonest as the charges.
The Washington Post reported: “His lawyer, Jay Sekulow, said Brunson will be flown to a U.S. air base in Germany where he will be evaluated and eventually flown back to the United States.”
Brunson’s defense attorney, Ismail Cem Halavurt, commented that “the verdict was the best of a bad situation. He is going to go, but I hope he is able to come back. He is someone who absolutely loves Turkey.”
The Post indicated that “in recent months, the administration made the pastor’s release a priority, and in August, the United States imposed sanctions on two senior Turkish cabinet ministers as a way to pressure authorities here. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had said that his government could not interfere in a judicial case. But U.S. officials said Thursday that an agreement between the two sides to free Brunson was negotiated on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly last month. The deal, they said, would include the lifting of U.S. sanctions in exchange for reduced charges that would allow Brunson to either be sentenced to time served or serve any remaining sentence in the United States.”
Also, “Vice President Pence took a particular interest in Brunson’s case.”
The Order is grateful to the Trump administration for its efforts to free Pastor Brunson. We hope that the freeing of Brunson will herald a new flowering of respect for religious freedom in Turkey, leading to the granting of full religious freedom to the Orthodox Christians of Turkey, the reopening of the Halki Seminary, and the granting of full rights to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
With gratitude to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for our Orthodox faith, we stand in prayerful hope and solidarity with our fellow Christians and all people of good will, giving thanks to God for the release of Pastor Brunson and joyfully anticipating his safe return to his family.
Anthony J. Limberakis, MD