After holding American pastor Andrew Brunson in jail for nearly a year and a half without charges, the Turkish court is now looking to keep him in prison for what could be the rest of his life, equating his evangelism to terrorism.
American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) Senior Counsel Cece Heil stressed how religious intolerance in Turkey – where 99 percent of its population practices Islam – has allowed the legal system to make ridiculous claims.
“[The] 62-page indictment against … Brunson calls ‘Christianization’ an act of terrorism,” Heil announced in her ACLJ report. “The … indictment – wholly lacking merit – provides no evidence regarding criminal action by Pastor Andrew, which comes as no surprise.”
Failed equation: Evangelism = terrorism
The allegations that could keep the 50-year-old Brunson behind bars for 35 years essentially turns the Bible into a “how-to” book for terrorists.
“The charges include membership in an armed terrorist organization and military espionage,” CBN News reported. “ACLJ – which is helping Brunson's Turkish attorney – says the charges effectively make sharing the Gospel an act of terrorism.”
Heil says that in Turkey – which is ranked the 31st worst country for Christian persecution on the Open Doors USA World Watch List – pastors are essentially considered terrorists.
"Turkey has literally taken the position that Christianization is terrorism," Heil told CBN News. "They have no specific evidence that Pastor Brunson has committed any crime, [as] the fact that he is a Christian – and specifically a Christian pastor – is what they are equating as terrorism."
Not quite the same as Islamic terrorism – which includes beheadings, killing hundreds or thousands by hijacking airliners, and blowing up or lethally shooting dozens via suicide bombings and gun massscres – Turkey views sharing the love of Jesus Christ with others as an act of “Christian terrorism.”
"They use terms that he 'acted as an agent of unconventional warfare while under the mask of being an evangelical church pastor,'” Heil explained. “Some of those activities that they claim are terrorist acts are humanitarian aid, education and training."
Turkey's olitical pawn?
A victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Brunson was caught up in a sweep orchestrated by Muslim President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was just one many Christians who were arrested or deported after the failed coup attempt in Turkey back in 2016, when 161 were killed.
"President Erdogan basically had a purge getting rid of anyone he deemed was not on his side, which of course would include Christians when it's an entirely Muslim country," Heil noted. "Pastor Brunson was one of the Christians that was snatched up in this purge. Most of the Christian pastors had been deported and Pastor Brunson was not."
But there is more behind the Turkish government’s harsh dealings with Brunson, as Erdogan is reportedly using the pastor as leverage to get his hands on the man he deems as the perpetrator of the coup – the American Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who the Turkish leader has repeatedly asked the U.S. to arrest and deport for punishment.
"President Erdogan himself came out at the end of last year and demanded a swap between Pastor Brunson and the cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is living in Pennsylvania," Heil pointed out.
The allegations of a connection between the pastor and the Muslim cleric has been viewed as nothing more than comical.
“According to rights groups, the pastor is falsely accused of working with the FETO network of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party to overthrow the Turkish government and divide the country,” The Christian Post (CP) reported.
Association of Protestant Churches in Turkey Spokesperson Soner Tufan believes that the charges only appeal to the ignorant or the deceived.
"To claim that Andrew was a FETO executive and sought to destroy this country is like an insult and offense to reason," Tufan told World Watch Monitor. "Who would believe such a thing? He has spent an important part of his life trying to stay in this country, telling about Jesus in all his sermons and works. How could such a person be the member or the executive of an Islamic order?"
Brunson’s integrity as an upright Christian witness and a simple examination of the facts in the case are reportedly enough to acquit the persecuted pastor.
"Andrew Brunson is an innocent person," Tufan assured. "The indictment does not contain any real evidence. There is no real legal proof to use against him. It is a very political hostage case. That is why [the Turkish authorities] had to demand the worst punishment against him – to make him more valuable."
Trump and his team at the White House have been diligently trying to bring Brunson home every chance that they can get.
"The administration has taken a very engaged position with this case,” Heil informed. “President Trump has brought this situation up multiple times with President Erdogan directly and Foreign Minister Cavuslogu. This is something that is really unprecedented in these types of cases – that the president of the United States is bringing this situation up every time he speaks to the president of Turkey."
Besides encouraging Americans to sign ACLJ’s "Free Pastor Andrew" petition, which already has about half a million signatures, Heil is requesting that Christians pray for Brunson – a North Carolina native who has pastored a small congregation in Izmir, a town along Turkey’s Aegean coast, for the past 20 years.
"Pray first just for peace and comfort,” Heil suggested. “He's missed out on major life events with his family. He missed the wedding of his daughter. He's missed graduations, birthdays – things he can never get back."
Brunson’s trial in Turkish criminal court is set for April 16 – nearly a year-and-a-half after he was arrested.