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Turkey: Hopes dashed for release of Pastor Brunson as trial to continue in October

For many months the Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, has been calling attention to the plight of Pastor Brunson, and calling upon the government of Turkey to reaffirm its commitment to religious freedom, and to the continued existence of Christianity in that land of its ancient flowering, by releasing the pastor forthwith. We note these latest developments with sorrow and disappointment, and hope that there will be increasing recognition in the West of the fact that in Turkey, the unalienable right to religious freedom that democratic nations take for granted is under severe attack. The Order once again calls upon the government of Turkey to release Pastor Brunson immediately and reaffirm its commitment to religious freedom as an unalienable human right.

“Hopes dashed for release of pastor Andrew Brunson as Turkish trial to continue in October,” World Watch Monitor, July 18, 2018:

Hopes were dashed for the imminent release of an American pastor jailed in Turkey on terrorism charges as a Turkish court today ordered him to remain behind bars.

The court scheduled Andrew Brunson’s next hearing for 12 October.

Some observers had believed that Turkey might release Brunson, who has been detained for almost two years, since Oct 2016. The pastor of a small church in Izmir, he is accused of having links with supporters of the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, who is blamed for the failed 2016 coup against President Erdogan, and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Brunson denies all the charges.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga attended today’s hearing in Aliaga, near Izmir. USCIRF has condemned the charges against Pastor Brunson and has called for his immediate release.

“The government of Turkey continues to make a mockery of justice in its treatment of Pastor Brunson. 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. 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.”

Kristina Arriaga, Vice-Chair, US Commission on International Religious Freedom

The court heard testimony from four witnesses: three for the prosecution, and one for the defence. For nearly two hours during today’s hearing, former church members testified against Pastor Brunson, making vague, unsubstantiated accusations.  When the judge asked Brunson to reply to the witnesses, he said: “My faith teaches me to forgive, so I forgive those who testified against me.”

Brunson’s lawyer’s request for his first choice defence witness was refused, since the witness himself was also implicated in the indictment, so another witness, less familiar with Brunson, had to appear instead.

Brunson’s supporters were disappointed at today’s outcome, having been encouraged by recent talks at the diplomatic level.

As the Al-Monitor news website noted this week, Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart Recep Erdogan were “all smiles as they were photographed exchanging fist bumps” at last week’s NATO summit in Brussels. That meeting was followed by a 15-minute phonecall on Monday (16 July), during which Brunson’s case was discussed, according to the Turkish pro-government daily newspaper, Sabah.

In April Trump tweeted in support of Brunson, saying he was “being persecuted in Turkey for no reason”.

However a former opposition member of the Turkish parliament told Al-Monitor that powerful forces are working against Brunson. Aykan Erdemir, now a senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for Defence of Democracies, told Al-Monitor: “Both the pro-government media and the prosecutor’s office have dug themselves deep in framing Brunson as a terrorist, and it will be a challenge for them to pull a U-turn.”

He added that Erdogan’s nationalist allies “have a proven track record of anti-Christian and anti-missionary prejudice and would not welcome Brunson’s release.”…

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