An American man could spend the rest of his life in a Turkish prison. His crime? He’s a Christian pastor. Pastor Andrew Brunson has been held without charges for almost two years, but last week, a Turkish court approved a 62-page indictment against him.
The American Center for Law and Justice, which is helping Brunson’s Turkish attorney, says the charges effectively make sharing the gospel an act of terrorism.
“Turkey has literally taken the position that Christianization is terrorism,” ACLJ Senior Counsel Cece Heil said in a news conference after the Turkish government in effect equated evangelism with “association with an armed terrorist organization and military espionage”. “They have no specific evidence that Pastor Brunson has committed any crime. The fact that he is a Christian, and specifically a Christian pastor, is what they are equating as terrorism.”
“They use terms that he ‘acted as an agent of unconventional warfare while under the mask of being in an evangelical church pastor.’ Some of those activities that they claim are terrorist acts are humanitarian aid, education, and training,” Heil added.
The attorney prosecuting Brunson is asking for a total of 35 years, which would effectively give the 50-year-old pastor a life sentence.
Brunson was one of many other Christians who were arrested or deported from the country following the 2016 failed coup that left at least 161 people dead.
“President Erdogan basically had a purge getting rid of anyone he deemed was not on his side, which of course would include Christians when it’s an entirely Muslim country,” Heil explained. “Pastor Brunson was one of the Christians that was snatched up in this purge. Most of the Christian pastors had been deported and Pastor Brunson was not.”
But Erdogan’s reign of terror isn’t directed just at pastors. The country, which is also a NATO member, was once an example of how a Muslim country could join the western world and practice western democratic values. Its people were virtually indistinguishable from Europeans and Americans in dress and tastes. It enjoyed press freedoms and Christians freely worshiped. As extremist Muslims have slowly taken over the government–one political office at a time–the country has descended into cultural and religious chaos losing many of its previous democratic freedoms. Some say it is becoming the new Iran.
Caught in the crossfire are Christians.
Heil believes Brunson is being used as a political pawn.
“President Erdogan himself came out at the end of last year and demanded a swap between Pastor Brunson and the cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is living in Pennsylvania,” she said.
Gulen is a Muslim Imam who President Erdogan believes was responsible for the latest coup. The Turkish president has repeatedly called on the United States to arrest and deport him back to Turkey.
Meanwhile, the Trump Administration has been working aggressively to free Brunson.
“The administration has taken a very engaged position with this case. President Trump has brought this situation up multiple times with President Erdogan directly and Foreign Minister Cavuslogu. This is something that is really unprecedented in these types of cases that the president of the United States is bringing this situation up every time he speaks to the president of Turkey.”
Heil asks that believers pray fervently for the pastor.
“Pray first just for peace and comfort…He’s missed out on major life events with his family. He missed the wedding of his daughter. He’s missed graduations, birthdays, things he can never get back,” she said.
She also encourages people to take action by signing an ACLJ petition, “Free Pastor Andrew,” which has more than 400,000 signatures so far.