Welcome to USCIRF

Pastor Andrew Brunson

Country: Turkey

Key Fact: American pastor living in Turkey for 20+ years

Detained Since: October 7, 2016. Pastor Brunson was convicted on October 12, 2018, on the charge of aiding terrorism but released the same day and subsequently returned to the U.S. The judge determined that his two-year detainment plus his good conduct counted for him serving his sentence of three years, one month-imprisonment. 

Charges: “support of a terrorist organization” and “political or military espionage”

Possible Sentence: Life in prison

Biography: Andrew Brunson, 50, is an American citizen who has lived in Turkey for 23 years. He is a pastor for the Izmir Diriliş (Resurrection) Church, a small evangelical Presbyterian congregation in the city of Izmir.

Andrew filed an application to renew his residence visa in April 2016. On October 7, 2016, the local police department summoned him for what he assumed to be a routine meeting to discuss his visa renewal. However, he was taken into custody upon his arrival at the station and told he would be deported within 15 days.

A lawyer who asked to visit Andrew was denied access. When the lawyer returned with an affidavit, officials told him that he signed a statement declaring that he did not want a lawyer; the document he signed waived his right to legal representation. Initially, Turkey also refused to allow a U.S. consulate representative to meet with him, a violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. During this period, members of the Pastor’s church attempted to bring food, water, and clothing to him, but were denied access until October 13. Pastor Brunson was not allowed contact with other prisoners and was held incommunicado in the Harmandali Detention Center.

A court document released at a December 9, 2016 hearing indicated that Pastor Brunson had been charged with “membership in an armed terrorist organization.” The judge reportedly mentioned allegations that Pastor Brunson is linked to the Gülen movement, which the Turkish government accuses of planning the failed July 2016 coup.

Pastor Brunson initially was held in a cell with 21 other inmates that was built to hold only eight prisoners. He was transferred in August 2017 to Kiriklar Prison where he was in a cell with two other men who have been accused of being members of the Gülen movement. He spends 24 hours a day in his cell, leaving for one hour weekly for visits. Sometimes he is allowed family visits and the U.S. Embassy sees him regularly.  

Anadolu, a state-run news agency, reported on August 24, 2017 that the prosecutor submitted new evidence corroborating two charges against Mr. Brunson: support of a terrorist organization and political or military espionage. On March 5, a Turkish court accepted the prosecutor’s indictment.

Vice Chair and USCIRF advocate Kristina Arriaga and then Vice Chair Sandra Jolley visited Pastor Brunson on October 5, 2017, and confirmed the desperate conditions in which Mr. Brunson was being held.

Pastor Brunson’s first court hearing of his trial occurred on April 16, 2018, after 18 months in detention. His second hearing took place on May 7; then USCIRF Vice Chair Sandra Jolley and USCIRF staff attended in person. His third hearing, which Vice Chair Arriaga and USCIRF staff attended, took place on July 18. Pastor Brunson was released to house arrest on July 25 due to health concerns. His fourth and last hearing took place on October 12, 2018, with Commissioner Tony Perkins and USCIRF staff present.


USCIRF Advocate
Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga 

Commissioner Advocacy
Senate Briefing: Turkey Today –Taking the Temperature of Religious Freedom and Human Rights
Testimony: U.S. government’s Role in Protecting International Religious Freedom

Related Reports and Briefs 
2018 Annual Report Chapter on Turkey
Turkey Chapter – 2018 Annual Report (Turkish Translation)
Compulsory Religious Education in Turkey: A Survey and Assessment of Textbooks

News Room
Turkey Postpones Hearing to July 18, Sends Pastor Andrew Brunson Back to Prison
Turkey:  USCIRF Delegation Visits Imprisoned U.S. Citizen Pastor Andrew Brunson
State Department Fails to Meet Deadline for CPC Designations

Other Resources
Center for Strategic & International Studies: https://www.csis.org/regions/middle-east/europe/turkey
Evangelical Presbyterian Church: https://www.epc.org/forgottenamericaninturkeyarchive
Human Rights Watch: Turkey: https://www.hrw.org/europe/central-asia/turkey
State Department International Religious Freedom Report
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights: Turkey: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/ENACARegion/Pages/TRIndex.aspx