Turkey (MNN) – Heading into Andrew Brunson’s third court hearing on Wednesday, the international community seemed optimistic about Brunson being released from prison for the rest of his trial. However, the hearing did not result in freedom, but rather a return to prison and the scheduling of a new court hearing.
Todd Nettleton of the Voice of the Martyrs USA explains, “There was a lot of speculation that maybe, at this third hearing, maybe finally we would see Andrew Brunson released from prison as his trial continues.
“That did not happen. There were more witnesses that testified. Andrew was not released. He was not allowed to go home for the remainder of the trial. He was returned to prison after that, and the next court hearing is not scheduled until October the 12th, so several more months down the road before he has another hearing.”
A Testimony of Unwavering Faith
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom released a statement on Wednesday, condemning the Turkish government for returning Brunson to prison, and for the charges that are being upheld against him.
The statement further reads: For nearly two hours during the 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.” Only one witness from the defense was allowed to testify.
While this is disappointing, Nettleton says Brunson’s reaction is something to be encouraged by:
“Andrew had the opportunity to testify in the court about the fact that he’s a follower of Jesus Christ. About the fact that that’s why he’s in prison. He also had the ability and the grace to forgive some of the witnesses who were testifying against him, people who had been a part of his church there in Turkey.”
A Trial Without Evidence
The accusations brought against Brunson are related to terrorism and espionage. He’s been accused of having connections to Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric whom the Turkish government blames for the attempted coup of 2016.
However, the evidence for these accusations has been severely lacking. The witness statements have been vague. Altogether, Nettleton says, the case being made against Brunson requires a stretch of the imagination if Brunson is going to be viewed as a criminal.
“One of the things I believe was an email between Brunson and his daughter, sharing a recipe or sharing a video about making a certain dish, and that dish supposedly is popular among members of the Fethullah Gülen organization.”
The logic is that because Brunson was sharing this recipe, he must be in league with Gülen. At best, Nettleton says, this is a laughable argument.
“And yet, here’s a man who’s been in prison now, more than a year and a half, on that kind of evidence.”
This makes it even more frustrating because it reveals that the trial being wielded at Brunson isn’t looking for truth, but for the upper hand. Turkey wants the United States to release Fetullah Gülen into their custody so they can prosecute him—something the United State is unwilling to do.
There’s no telling what the future holds so long as both governments are unwilling to bend. But, the international pressure is mounting against Turkey. And in the meantime, we aren’t powerless to help.
Prayer is a good place to start:
“We certainly pray for his freedom, and we continue to pray that God will strengthen him and empower him and encourage him, and even allow, just as He did at the hearing this week, allow him to be a witness for Christ. Allow him to talk about his faith, and for people to hear about Jesus because Andrew Brunson is being held in prison.”
Another thing that we can do is let our government know that Brunson’s fate matters to us. Nettleton says that it’s been encouraging to see the United States government get involved. At the first hearing, Brunson had the support of a senator from his home state of North Carolina. The Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback, was also there.
More recently, two senators visited Brunson as well as had a meeting with Turkish President Erdogan. President Trump also reportedly called Erdogan on July 16th, asking for Brunson’s release, Middle East Concern says.
“I would encourage people, in addition to your prayers, continue to call your congressmen, call your senator, and say ‘Hey, this is important to us. Here is a US citizen that is essentially being held almost as a hostage in Turkey. What are you doing about it Mr. Senator? What are you doing about it Ms. Congresswoman?’ And let them know that American citizens are paying attention to this, and to continue the action to sort of make sure the Turkish government knows, this is an important case and we are very invested in what happens to Andrew Brunson.”
Header photo courtesy of Pixabay.