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ALIAGA, Turkey, July 19, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Turkey is making a mockery of justice with its arrest and detention of Christian pastor Andrew Brunson for alleged acts of terrorism, says the vice chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
“Today, I was hoping to see the judge order his complete release and put an end to the miscarriage of justice that pastor Brunson’s entire case represents,” said Kristina Arriaga on Wednesday.
“Turkish authorities still have not provided one good reason for depriving pastor Brunson of his liberties,” she said. “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.”
U.S. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have both spoken with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about the Christian pastor’s case. There have been threats of sanctions against Turkey by Congress.
But neither Trump’s lobbying nor the personal chemistry between him and the Turkish leader have yet managed to secure Brunson’s release.
The pastor, who has been in a Turkish jail since late 2016 on charges of being a terrorist and spy, came before the court yet again in Aliaga on Wednesday for his third hearing.
The Hurriyet Daily News, a Turkish news source, had suggested Brunson might be released today after sitting in his cell for more than a year and a half.
“Being an evangelic(al) pastor, Brunson’s case has been attracting enormous attention in the U.S., both politically and religiously,” wrote Serkan Demirtaş in the Hurriyet Daily News last month. “It has caused a number of serious congressional interventions against Turkey, which would cause political consequences.”
“Brunson, who has been in jail since late 2016, seems to be much too costly for Turkey and his continued detention would further complicate the situation. That is why many diplomats in Ankara expect his potential release followed by his deportation pending trial on the July 18 hearing,” wrote the journalist.
Although supporters have been signing a petition and offering up prayers, the much-hoped-for release of the Christian pastor did not happen Wednesday.
Instead, the Turkish court went ahead and listened to witnesses.
“The prosecution put on three witnesses. Pastor Brunson was allowed one witness, who was the head of his church, who refuted all the allegations – and [the judges in the Turkish court] said he had nothing specific to say and adjourned for the day and set a trial date of Oct. 12,” said CeCe Heil, senior counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice.
After two hours of testimony by the prosecution’s witnesses, a judge called on the pastor to reply to their allegations.
“My faith teaches me to forgive, so I forgive those who testified against me,” Brunson reportedly replied.
The case against Brunson involves the testimony of secret witnesses and secret testimony.
“This is a sham,” said Heil. “Pastor Brunson is not a terrorist. He has become a political hostage and bargaining chip.”
The U.S. charge d’affaires in Turkey, Philip Kosnett, seems to agree.
“I have read the indictment, I have attended three hearings, I don’t believe there is any indication that pastor Brunson is guilty of any sort of criminal or terrorist activity,” Kosnett reportedly said. “The case has tested Trump’s preference for flattery over confrontation with some world leaders, as he is weathering harsh criticism in the United States for praising Russian President Vladimir Putin during a summit between the two leaders in Helsinki.”
Scooped up Oct. 7, 2016 during a crackdown of Erdogan’s political opponents in the wake of an attempted coup, Brunson has visibly suffered.
He has lost 50 lbs. and is now taking anti-depressants. He is also facing 35 years in jail if convicted.
He was initially charged with membership in an armed terrorist organization. A Turkish judge has reportedly tried to link the Christian pastor to the political movement launched by Muslim Muhammed Fethullah Gülen, thought to be responsible for the attempted coup. The indictment also claims Brunson helped members of the Kurdish Workers’ Party, which the Turkish government regards as a terrorist organization, escape by letting them become Christians and leave the country.
“Andrew Craig Brunson, who is said to be engaged in spying and organizational activities across our country under the cover of missionary activity, is in contact with and meets with members of the terrorist organizations FETÖ/PDY and PKK, uses his religious title as a cover, and tries to interfere in our country’s internal affairs,” reads the indictment.
In a tweet earlier this year, the American president indicated his disdain for Turkey’s case against the Christian pastor.
“Pastor Andrew Brunson, a fine gentleman and Christian leader in the United States, is on trial and being persecuted in Turkey for no reason,” Trump tweeted in April. “They call him a spy, but I am more of a spy than he is. Hopefully, he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!”