The chief of the American Center for Law and Justice, which fights through its affiliates around the globe for religious rights, is calling on the nation to turn up the pressure on Turkey, where the government has put an American Christian pastor on trial for his faith.
The call comes after Monday’s initial day of a trial in Turkey for Pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been jailed since late 2016 – and only recently was told of the charges.
He’s accused of acting in support of terrorism through his Christian church activities.
ACLU chief Jay Sekulow said, “Instead of being returned to the prison [after Monday’s hearing] where he had been held most recently, the judge ordered Pastor Andrew to be taken back to an overcrowded and extremely grim prison where he was held initially. As you can imagine, the news is devastating to Pastor Andrew and his family.
“At the American Center for Law and Justice – we are stepping up our aggressive campaign to secure the freedom of Pastor Andrew. Between now and the next court date of May 7th – we have an important opportunity – to turn up the pressure on the Turkish government.
“The next three weeks are critical for Pastor Andrew and his family. Stand with the ACLJ as we work on the international front as well as at the highest levels of our government to keep Pastor Andrew’s case in the headlines. We are grateful for everyone who has stood with us during the legal battle. But these next three weeks are VERY CRITICAL. We have to turn up the pressure – work even harder to secure the release of Pastor Andrew.”
The legal team reported the first day of Brunson’s trial was filled with testimony from secret witnesses. They were on video, with their appearances and voices disguised.
The judge said the trial will resume May 7.
The ACLJ reported, “Pastor Andrew is on trial because of his Christian faith. The 62-page indictment accuses him of the supposed ‘crime’ of ‘Christianization,’ calling it an act of terror. If convicted, he faces a 35-year prison sentence – which for the 50-year-old pastor is essentially a life sentence.”
According to AFP, Brunson has been pastor of a church in Ismir, for years.
During the Monday hearing, Brunson rejected the government’s claims.
“We have seen no credible evidence that Mr. Brunson is guilty of a crime and are convinced that he is innocent,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said after Monday’s hearing. “We hope that the judicial system in Turkey will resolve his case in a timely, fair and transparent manner.”
At the hearing were Sam Brownback, the U.S. ambassador at large for religious freedom, and Sen. Thom Tillis from Brunson’s home state of North Carolina.
“We are very disappointed. If anything, I think the information that has been presented today creates a more compelling reason why he is innocent,” Tillis told reporters after the ruling, AFP reported.
Brunson, who moved to Turkey in 1993 and opened a church in 2010, told the judge he has been praying for Turkey for 25 yeares.
The case has raised tensions – further – between the U.S. and Turkey, which in recent years has been regressing toward a Shariah-compliant theocracy.
Relations already were on edge over American backing for a Kurdish militia in Syria that Turkey has declared to be terror.
There is suspicion that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered Brunson jailed in order to use him as a bargaining chip against the U.S. to have his political foe, Fethullah Gulen, returned from the United States in an exchange.
Brunson bluntly rejected the Turkish government’s claim that he, as a Christian, would be working for Gulen’s group, an Islamic movement.