Twenty-four members of the Council of Europe have signed a document demanding Turkey release an American Christian pastor who has been imprisoned without charges for more than a year.
The written declaration calls out Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for using Brunson as “a bargaining chip” with the U.S. to extradite Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan blames for the failed coup attempt in July 2016.
The campaign to obtain freedom for Andrew Brunson, a U.S. citizen who had served as a pastor in Turkey for more than 23 years before his arrest in late 2016, has been fueled by the American Center for Law and Justice.
The organization said that for more than a year it has been “aggressively fighting on behalf of Pastor Andrew and drawing attention to his wrongful imprisonment.”
“We have testified before Congress at a U.S. Helsinki Commission hearing; we’ve brought Pastor Andrew’s case to the attention of President Donald Trump; and now we’ve brought this human rights atrocity to the attention of the Council of Europe.”
ACLJ said its international affiliate, the European Centre for Law and Justice, submitted a written question to the Council’s Committee of Ministers “with the argument that Turkey is violating its international commitments to respect and apply human rights within its territory.”
The question to the ministers was: “What do you intend to do to ensure that Turkey adheres to its European commitments and obligations. And what can you do to ensure the effective enjoyment of the rights enshrined in the European Convention by Pastor Brunson?”
Eventually, 24 members of the council, from Moldova, Sweden, Ukraine, Romania, Ireland, Armenia, Spain, San Marino, Poland, Serbia, United Kingdom, Luxembourg, Hungary, Netherlands and Croatia, signed a document explaining that Brunson has been held for more than 400 days, “without any reason, and in blatant violation of his rights.”
The ministers’ statement said: “He has lived under inhumane conditions and lost over 50 pounds. While no evidence had ever been set forth to substantiate any crime from him, the Turkish authorities have systematically denied the multiple appeals contesting his detention.”
ACLJ said getting the support of the ministers “is another critical step in our extensive international efforts to help secure the release of Pastor Andrew.”
WND reported in late 2017 that Turkey was not only accusing Brunson of terrorism but also espionage.
Turkey, once held up as an example of moderate Islam friendly to Western values, has been sliding backward in recent years. The latest crackdowns on Christianity signal an acceleration of its return to Islamic Shariah law under the Erdogan regime.
For example, the country, which is 99 percent Muslim, recently seized ownership of 50 churches.
The last time Turkey was ruled by Shariah, under the Ottoman Empire, it slaughtered more than 1.5 million Christians of Greek, Armenian and Syrian descent.
Bronson led a church in the city of Izmir. He has been detained since October 2016 but has now been accused of espionage and attempting to overthrow the Turkish government, charges that could bring life in prison and possibly even the death penalty if he is convicted. The pastor is a U.S. citizen from North Carolina but has lived in Turkey since 1993.
By refusing to release Brunson and now tacking on espionage charges, the Turkish government appears to be sending a message to both its own people and the outside world that Turkey is indeed now an Islamic state and will not tolerate Christian evangelizing, according to legal experts and fellow missionaries in the United States.
Barnabas Aid, which assists persecuted Christians worldwide, reported in November 2016 “a climate of growing instability and persecution of Christians in Turkey.”
When Turkey initially denied an appeal on Brunson’s behalf, they claimed he held “membership in an armed terrorist organization.”
ACLJ noted the charging documents presented no evidence for such a charge.
Brunson was tricked into appearing at a government office with a promise he would be given a long-awaited permanent residency card. Instead, he was arrested.