IZMIR, Turkey (BP) — American pastor Andrew Brunson faces new charges punishable by four consecutive life imprisonments in an Izmir, Turkey, prison.
The Presbyterian pastor formerly of North Carolina is now accused of espionage aimed at overthrowing the Turkish Parliament and government, and undermining the constitutional order of the state, the Wall Street Journal reported shortly after the charges were levied Aug. 24. Previously accused of working with the Fetullah Gulen movement to overthrow Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Brunson has been imprisoned since early October 2016.
The new charges are “just as false and ridiculous as the original charge,” the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) said in an Aug. 28 press release. The charges are compounded by Turkish authorities’ refusal to open Brunson’s file to attorneys who have no idea of which evidence authorities claim to hold against the pastor.
Brunson’s family and others advocating for his release continue to request prayers for the Evangelical Presbyterian pastor who has ministered in Turkey 23 years.
“Don’t forget about him. Pray for him to return home to his family,” his daughter Jacqueline Furnani of North Carolina wrote Aug. 28 on Facebook. “I flew to Turkey to visit my dad this August, and it broke my heart to see him suffering like this. Seeing his face again in this picture brings me to tears,” she wrote in response to his photo posted at ACLJ.org.
Turkey has presented no evidence supporting any of the charges against Brunson, who has repeatedly said his only purpose in Turkey has been “to tell about Jesus Christ,” the ACLJ said. Brunson had led the Izmir Resurrection Church of about 40 worshippers in Izmir without government interference until he and his wife Norine sought to renew their Visas last year.
The ACLJ has urged Erdogan to free Brunson by using a new law in Turkey to return prisoners to their home countries, as stated in Article 74 of Decree 694, implemented just a day after the new charges were levied.
“Pastor Andrew … should be released immediately and returned to the United States to be reunited with his family,” the ACLJ said in its press release. “Given this new opportunity, it is critical to encourage President Erdogan to execute this new power on behalf of Pastor Andrew and return him to the United States.”
The new law allows prisoners or convicts who aren’t Turkish citizens to “be returned to another country or exchanged for prisoners or convicts in another country when national security or the country’s interests so require, and upon request of the Foreign Minister, with the recommendation of the Justice Minister and the approval of the President,” the ACLJ said.
In February, a group of 78 U.S. lawmakers signed a letter calling for Brunson’s release, indicating a “close partnership for decades” between the U.S. and Turkey.
In August, when U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson released the International Religious Freedom Report for 2016, he cited Turkey among seven countries that “use discriminatory laws to deny their citizens freedom of religion or belief,” along with Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, Pakistan, Sudan and Bahrain.