A Turkish court has rejected pastor Andrew Brunson’s appeal to be released from house arrest and have a travel ban lifted so he can return to the United States.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency said a court in the city of Izmir issued the ruling after stating there has been no change in the “strong criminal suspicion” against Brunson, the Associated Press reports.
An evangelical pastor from North Carolina, Brunson was arrested after the failed Turkish coup attempt in 2016. He was charged with supposed ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party and a U.S.-based Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, whom the Turkish government blames for the unrest unleashed by the coup.
President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have all called for the pastor’s release. Two weeks ago, a Turkish court refused to release Brunson from prison, prompting swift condemnation from U.S. officials.
“The government of Turkey continues to make a mockery of justice in its treatment of Pastor Brunson,” said Kristina Arriaga, vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Trump called the ruling “a total disgrace.”
Last week, Turkey transferred Brunson to house arrest, citing the pastor’s health problems. The announcement of Brunson’s transfer came during the same week the United States hosted the first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, which brought together governments, civil society representatives, and religious leaders from around the world to discuss ways to effectively promote religious liberty.
Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom, mentioned Brunson during his opening remarks at the ministerial. “In Turkey, Pastor Andrew Brunson remains wrongfully imprisoned on false charges,” he said.
“People across the globe are being oppressed, brutalized, and killed for seeking to practice their faith or live according to their beliefs. Others face persecution, discrimination, and harassment. This cannot be allowed to continue,” Brownback said.
Pence delivered a pointed warning to Turkey on the last day of the summit. “If Turkey does not take immediate action to free this innocent man of faith and send him home to America,” Pence said, “the United States will impose significant sanctions on Turkey until Pastor Andrew Brunson is free.”
Trump reflected Pence’s message in a tweet, saying the “innocent man of faith should be released immediately!” and that the “United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dismissed the threat, saying the U.S. “cannot make Turkey back down with sanctions.” He warned, “the U.S. should not forget that unless it changes its attitude, it will lose a strong and sincere partner like Turkey.”
By: Jeffrey Cimino
(Washington Free Beacon)