FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 7, 2018
Turkey Postpones Hearing to July 18, Sends Pastor Andrew Brunson Back to Prison
“The judge’s decision at the conclusion of today’s hearing to dismiss all of the witnesses called by Pastor Brunson’s defense without listening to a single minute of their testimony is simply unconscionable,” said USCIRF Vice Chair Sandra Jolley
WASHINGTON, DC -- The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) was deeply disappointed today by a Turkish court decision to once again postpone proceedings in the case of Pastor Andrew Brunson, an American citizen and leader of a small Protestant Christian church who is facing up to 35 years imprisonment on false terrorism and espionage related charges. Vice Chair Sandra Jolley attended today’s hearing in Aliaga and witnessed the nearly eleven hours of proceedings. USCIRF has condemned the charges against Pastor Brunson and called for his immediate release.
“We leave the courthouse with serious concerns. Today’s eleven hours of proceedings were dominated by wild conspiracies, tortured logic, and secret witnesses, but no real evidence to speak of. Upon these rests a man’s life,” said Vice Chair Jolley. “Worse still, the judge’s decision at the conclusion of today’s hearing to dismiss all of the witnesses called by Pastor Brunson’s defense without listening to a single minute of their testimony is simply unconscionable.”
Pastor Brunson was initially detained by Turkish officials on October 7, 2016 and accused of membership in an armed terrorist organization. On March 13, Turkish prosecutors indicted Pastor Brunson on terrorism and espionage related charges, seeking a sentence of up to 35 years’ imprisonment. His first hearing took place on April 16. Pastor Brunson has lived and worked in Turkey for over 22 years.
High-level U.S. officials, including President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, have called for Pastor Brunson’s release. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently expressed his concern regarding the ongoing detention of American citizens, including Pastor Brunson, in Turkey.
“USCIRF believes firmly in the innocence of Pastor Brunson. We met with him in Kiriklar Prison last October. We have publicly advocated for his release and we are here today to stand with him and to call for his unconditional release,” said Vice Chair Jolley. “It is unthinkable that a friend and fellow NATO ally would jeopardize our vital and historic ties. The American public and the U.S. Congress are deeply disturbed by the events of the past 18 months. The truth is that this case is part of a larger decline in personal freedoms, including religious freedom and human rights, that we are witnessing in Turkey in recent years. We are looking to the Turkish judiciary to uphold Pastor Brunson’s innocence.”
On October 5, 2017, USCIRF Vice Chairs Sandra Jolley and Kristina Arriaga were granted access to Kiriklar Prison in Izmir and allowed to visit with Pastor Brunson. They were his first visitors outside of family, legal counsel, and U.S. embassy officials. They described their visit in an opinion editorial for Religion News Service, which can be found here.
In 2018, USCIRF placed Turkey on its Tier 2 for violations of religious freedom and began advocating for Pastor Brunson as a part of its Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project.
For more information, see USCIRF’s 2018 annual report chapter on Turkey.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission, the first of its kind in the world. USCIRF reviews the facts and circumstances of religious freedom violations abroad and makes policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress. USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President and the Congressional leadership of both political parties. To interview a Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at Media@USCIRF.gov or Isaac Six, Director of Congressional Affairs and Communications (ISix@USCIRF.gov +1-202-786-0606).