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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is willing to release American pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been detained in Turkey for one year and accused of espionage – if US authorities hand over Turkish Islamic preacher Fetullah Gulen, in exile in the United States since 1999. The Turkish government says Gulen was the mastermind behind the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016. According to Fides news, the proposed exchange was prefigured by Erdogan himself during a meeting with members of the Turkish police force on September 28 at his presidential palace in Ankara. On that occasion Erdogan explicitly linked the possible release of Brunson to the extradition request of Gulen.
The report continued that Erdogan’s appeal was not taken into consideration by the US administration. During a daily press briefing on September 28, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert was asked a question about a swap for Brunson.
MS NAUERT: In terms of Fethullah Gulen, who is here in the United States, we have received several requests for his extradition from the Turkish Government related to him. Though – that is something – we haven’t talked about this for a while. We continue to evaluate it, take a look at the materials that the Turkish Government has provided us. I don’t have anything new for you on the subject of that.
In terms of Pastor Brunson, that is a very important issue for us, to try to get Pastor Brunson home. It is something that the President had raised with Mr. Erdogan not too terribly long ago. The State Department has been in as close of contact as we can be with Pastor Brunson. We last were able to visit him on September the 18th. That’s a new bit of news. The last time that we had visited him was – let’s see, it was August the 24th. And we just – we continue to advocate for his release. He was wrongfully imprisoned in Turkey, and we’d like to see him brought home.
QUESTION: Just one more question.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: We don’t usually hear this kind of prisoner swap or hostage diplomacy between the allies, Turkey’s ally. We hear about Iran or North Korea. What’s your view that this kind of offer, coming from your ally?
MS NAUERT: Look, I can’t imagine that we would go down that road. We have received extradition requests for him. I have nothing new for you on that. We continue to call for Pastor Brunson’s release. Source
Pastor Brunson, former head of the Evangelical Church of the Resurrection in Izmir (Smyrne Diriliş Kilisesi), was summoned in October 2016 together with his wife, Norine, by the Immigration Office. They were initially told to leave the country, because Andrew was accused of receiving funds from abroad to fund missionary initiatives that Turkey claimed would endanger the security of the Country with their activities. Later, the Turkish press reported that the decree of expulsion for the Evangelical pastor had been transformed into arrest after a secret witness accused him of belonging to the so-called FETO (Turkish acronym of “Fethullahnista terrorist organization”). In jail, Brunson had received visits from senior US embassy officials in Turkey, and also US President Donald Trump had demanded the release of the Evangelical pastor during the meeting last May at the White House with Turkish President Erdogan. Last August, after Trump’s intervention, Brunson was charged with crimes even worse than the ones he had been accused of in the past, and was imprisoned in a high security prison where some are accused of being among the top officials responsible for the failed coup in 2016. (Agenzia Fides, 2/10/2017)
Pastor Brunson wife reminds us of her husband’s 1-year imprisonment and to pray for her husband’s well-being and release.
“October 7 will be the one year mark of Andrew’s imprisonment and I am so grateful to the EPC (Evangelical Presbyterian Church) for issuing a Call to Prayer and Fasting for the weekend of October 7-8. Here is what they say:
“We are asking everyone in the EPC to consider fasting and praying for Andrew on Saturday, October 7, and for our churches to pray for Andrew and Norine during their worship services on Sunday, October 8.”
I know some of you have done quite a bit of fasting and we are so very grateful. Maybe others would be willing to join this Oct 7-8 time.
I recently heard of someone who is fasting coffee until Andrew is released! It has reminded him to pray for Andrew frequently, but has also provided many opportunities to get more prayer for Andrew when he turns down coffee and explains why! All of this is so precious to us.
And in a prior request,
We continue to need your prayers – for miraculous release and for peace that passes understanding to guard our hearts and minds.
Please join us in remembering this dear brother and his family in prayer with great hope.
April 7th marked 6 months since Turkey arrested American pastor, Andrew Brunson. It is unclear if there’s any movement on Andrew’s case. Andrew’s wife is asking for prayer. Please remember this brother and join the Voice of the Persecuted Prayer Team in lifting him to the Lord and believing for his release. Please remember his wife, Norine and their family when praying.
May all false evidence and testimony fall to the ground and may release come soon!
Pray that the Lord give Andrew favor with them with the men in his cell. They are very focused on all the differences (culture, language, religion, etc.). He is very alone.
Pray that the Lord will show me how to specifically encourage him at every visit and with every letter I write.
On April 16 (Easter Sunday!) Turkey will hold an important referendum. Please be in prayer for this country this week. We desire its blessing.
Please pray that the Lord will confirm to us very very clearly whether the things Andrew is hearing are from the Lord or from his own heart/mind. This is his big prayer request!!! THANK YOU!
(Voice of the Persecuted) American Pastor Brunson needs our encouragement and our prayers. Living with his family in Turkey for 23 years, this American pastor has great love for the Turkish people. He was a pastor at the Resurrection Church in the city of Izmir before his detainment on 7 Oct. under Interior Ministry deportation orders. During a trial on Dec. 9, Rev. Brunson was accused of being linked with a terrorist movement. He was then taken to Izmir’s Sakran 3 Nolu T Tipi Prison. His family and those who know Andrew maintain he is falsely accused. His wife says the news came as a crushing blow, as the family had hoped to be reunited by Christmas.
Please pray his faith remains strong and not discouraged while in prison. Pray doors will be opened to share the Gospel. Pray that God would strengthen and encourage his faith. And pray for Andrews’ wife and family as they are forced to endure emotional hardship without him. For more information about Andrew Brunson CLICK HERE
Thank you to those who are praying and sending messages of encouragement to Andrew. Expressing gratitude, his wife shared, (more…)
(Voice of the Persecuted) Andrew Brunson has been imprisoned and falsely charged with being a threat to Turkey’s national security. read more Recent reports have shared that Brunson is in grave danger and is being kept with ISIS fighters and Afghani rebels. His wife has confirmed the claim is false.
I want to clarify that Andrew is NOT being held with violent people in prison. He is in a room with 11 Muslims who are very devout so prayers are always going on in the small room. But these are not violent people and he is not in danger from them. They all sleep in bunks in a fairly tight space, and eat the meals in another room and have a small courtyard to go out to. I believe they are kept separate from everyone else.
The Brunsons have lived, including raising their children, in Turkey for 23 years. Andrew was a pastor at the Resurrection Church in Izmir before the couple was detained on 7 Oct. under Interior Ministry deportation orders.
During a trial on Dec. 9, Rev. Brunson was accused of being linked with a terrorist movement. He was then taken to Izmir’s Sakran 3 Nolu T Tipi Prison.
According to the ACLJ, Andrew was allowed to visit with family on Wednesday, and allowed to have a New Testament Bible which was previously denied. He was also given some access to his attorney, and has a visit scheduled for Friday with U.S. Embassy Officials. Yesterday, Pastor Andrew appealed his imprisonment, and was denied. Another appeal to a higher court is allowed, but it is uncertain how that appeal process will go. Due to an emergency decree in Turkey, those visits are recorded and any notes taken by his attorney are copied. Thus, Pastor Andrew has no attorney-client privilege.
Fifteen Turkish Protestant congregations and their leaders have been targeted since 27 Aug. by a strident campaign of death threats sent to their Facebook, email, websites and mobile telephones.
The threats followed the style and jargon typically used by the so-called Islamic State (IS), vowing to kill, massacre and behead apostates who the messages accused of having “chosen the path that denies Allah” and “dragged others into believing as you do… As heretics you have increased your numbers with ignorant followers”.
“Threats are not anything new for the Protestant community who live in this country and want to raise their children here,” the Association of Protestant Christians in Turkey said in a press release on 1 Sept. “But with the recent increase in systematic threats, from this country’s west to east and north to south, in different cities, we think that these messages, coming close together and resembling each other, are coming from the same source.”
A copy of one message seen by World Watch Monitor displayed the IS flag and called itself “those who go to jihad”. It warned: “Perverted infidels, the time that we will strike your necks is soon. May Allah receive the glory and praise.”
Most of the messages included a direct quote from the Al-Ahzab chapter of the Quran, which threatens “those who spread false news… Accursed, they shall be seized wherever found and killed with a horrible slaughter.”
A link was also posted for an Arabic video subtitled in Turkish on YouTube entitled, “The religious proofs why apostates should be killed”.
One pastor attacked over both email and SMS messages told World Watch Monitor, “They are saying things like they had been waiting for us to return to Islam, and that we are responsible for other Muslims turning to Christ, that our time is up and that Allah will give them our heads”.
The majority of Turkish Protestant congregations are former Muslims who have converted to Christianity. In contrast to most Muslim-majority nations, Turkish citizens have the legal right to change their religious identity or leave blank the religion column on their IDs.
Church leaders who received the messages were encouraged by the association to notify the police and public prosecutors in their local area regarding the threats.
Turkey’s stance towards IS
Turkey’s apparent ambivalence over the past year towards the Islamic State fighting on its borders for control over large sections of neighbouring Syria and Iraq remains under the international spotlight. But in early August, the state-controlled Religious Affairs Directorate issued its first condemnation of the jihadist group as a “terrorist” organisation, officially declaring it “non-Muslim”.
Condemning the self-proclaimed IS Caliphate for its “twisted” portrayal of Islam and the Quran, the Turkish government then released a detailed report to inform the public about the group’s tactics, slogans, operations and interpretation of Islam through weekly sermons, fatwas (religious edicts) and Quran courses.
Within just 10 days, IS responded with a new video directly threatening Turkey and its president, warning the people of Turkey against “atheists, crusaders and devils who fool them and make them a slave of the crusaders”. Vowing to conquer Istanbul soon, the speaker, using the alias Abu Ammar, called on the Turkish people to abandon democracy, secularism and human rights and instead follow Sharia.
Speaking in fluent Turkish on the seven-minute clip, which was distinctly amateur in comparison with the jihadists’ usual slick videos, the man was later identified as a 47-year-old Turkish citizen who had taken his wife and children to Syria to join IS in 2014.
RAISE YOUR VOICE
An American pastor, Andrew Brunson, has been falsely charged with “membership in an armed terrorist organization.” Turkey has imprisoned this American pastor without any evidence. He has been a Christian pastor in Turkey for the past 23 years. (more…)
UPDATE (9 Dec.): A Turkish judge sent Rev. Andrew Brunson to prison in Izmir today, 64 days after the US pastor and his wife, Norine, were detained on 7 Oct. under Interior Ministry deportation orders.
Although his wife was released on 19 Oct. and given an extended permit to remain in the country, Andrew Brunson has been held since 20 Oct. at the Harmandali Detention Centre on the northern edge of Izmir.
The 48-year-old was transferred overnight on 8 Dec. to a counter-terrorism centre, before being brought before an Izmir court today (9 Dec.) for interrogation.
The American Protestant heard today for the first time the allegations filed against him, which apparently prompted his arrest and lengthy detention. According to the officiating judge, the “terrorism” charges came from a “secret informant”. The court ruled that the files on Brunson’s case would continue to remain inaccessible to his lawyer, who had not been allowed to meet him until today’s hearing.
According to Norine Brunson, the lawyer confirmed that her husband was accused of links with the Fetullah Gulen movement, which is accused by Ankara of instigating a failed military coup against the Turkish government on 15 July. The pastor is now incarcerated at Izmir’s Sakran 3 Nolu T Tipi Prison.
In a wide-ranging crackdown to identify and prosecute the suspected coup plotters and their sympathisers, with the intention to prosecute them as “terrorists”, the Turkish authorities have suspended or jailed tens of thousands of judges, prosecutors, military personnel, journalists and educators on terrorism charges over the past five months.
Brunson and his wife, who have three children now studying in the US, have lived in Turkey for the past 23 years.
Previous update (20 Oct.)
Turkish police authorities holding an American Protestant couple in isolation for the past 13 days released the wife late last night (19 Oct.), but continue to hold her husband incommunicado in an Izmir detention facility.
Rev. Andrew Brunson and his wife Norine were refused contact with U.S. consular officials and lawyers since they were detained on 7 Oct., under Interior Ministry orders for deportation within 15 days on alleged “national security” grounds. To date, no reason for the expulsion order has been given to the couple, who are 20-year residents of Turkey.
Although initial attempts by members of the Izmir Resurrection Church to send in personal effects to their pastor and his wife were refused, this week officials accepted parcels of fresh clothing and medicine for the couple. But the police would not permit a Bible to be sent on to them.
It remained unclear whether Rev. Brunson would be deported or remain in custody. He was transferred to the Cigli detention centre in the northern part of Izmir this morning.
Original story (14 Oct.):
Turkish officials in the coastal city of Izmir detained American Christians Andrew and Norine Brunson on 7 Oct., refusing ever since to allow daily requests for access to them by U.S. consular officials and lawyers.
According to authorities at the Migration Administration’s detention facility in Izmir, the Turkish Interior Ministry had ordered the couple’s deportation within 15 days. Specifically, the directive reportedly accused them of activities said to constitute a “national security risk”.
When pressed five days later for details about this general accusation, the detention officials said they were “waiting for papers from Ankara” on the case.
Residents of Turkey for the past 20 years, the Brunsons are currently leading the Izmir Resurrection Church, a small Protestant congregation averaging 30 to 40 worshippers, located in the city’s Alsancak district.
After filing a routine application in April to renew their residence visas, the Brunsons had received no response for the past six months. But when they arrived home on 7 Oct., they found a written summons requesting them to report with their passports to a local police station. On arrival, they were immediately taken into custody.
A lawyer asking to visit them was denied access and told to obtain an affidavit as his legal authorisation. But when he returned with the document, officials claimed that the couple had already signed a statement, declaring they did not want a lawyer. The authorities refused to produce the written statement.
A lawyer acting on behalf of the Brunsons filed a petition to the Izmir governor yesterday (12 Oct.), protesting that the incommunicado stipulation against the American Christians was illegal under Turkish detention laws. A member of the Turkish Parliament has also made an inquiry on the handling of their detention.
Although an Izmir church leader confirmed that the U.S. Embassy in Ankara is reportedly “following the arrests”, an embassy official declined any comment on the detentions to World Watch Monitor.
After five days, church friends trying to send in a change of clothing to the couple, who are in their late forties, continue to be rebuffed at the detention centre.
A continuing pattern
The Interior Ministry has issued similar summary deportation orders against expatriate Christians living in Turkey over the past few years. But when their lawyers were given official access to their detained clients, as stipulated by law, the directive could be delayed. This allowed a temporary stay of deportation and a formal court appeal.
In such a recent turn-around, Canadian-American Christian David Byle was taken into custody in April, when the Interior Ministry denied his application to renew his residence visa and advised the immigration authorities to deport him as a “danger to public order”.
Byle has worked for years with a registered Bible Correspondence Course, helping educate the Turkish public about the Bible and organising legal street outreaches.
Byle’s lawyer filed three cases against his arrest, deportation order and re-entry ban. All now remain on hold because of the Turkish judicial upheaval, in which thousands of judges and prosecutors have been suspended over allegations of support for the Fetullah Gülen movement, accused of orchestrating the summer’s attempted military coup. But in the interim, until the cases are resolved, Byle continues to live in Turkey.
A similar process took place two years ago, when an American Protestant pastoring in southeast Turkey’s Gaziantep city for nine years was detained in September 2014 for imminent deportation, under Interior Ministry orders. Although Patrick Jensen’s residence permit was cancelled, his lawyer’s intervention shortened his detention to only 30 hours, and a court hearing was set to hear his appeal over the ruling, which Turkey’s Association of Protestant Churches had protested as “absolutely arbitrary”.
The Gaziantep Administrative Court’s judicial decision two months later overturned the Interior Ministry’s order, allowing Jensen to remain in the country.
Ironically, Jensen was refused entry on 27 Aug. when he arrived at the Istanbul airport, returning from traveling abroad. The reason for his blacklisting is still unclear.
Still another U.S. citizen living in Turkey and involved in Christian ministry learned this past weekend while flying out of an Istanbul airport that his valid residence visa had been revoked. It was unclear whether he would be permitted to re-enter Turkey if he returned on his round-trip ticket.
But apparently the option of judicial review is being circumvented in the Brunsons’ deportation, since they have so far been refused the right to any legal counsel to prevent their forced removal from Turkey.
Under Turkey’s current “state of emergency”, declared after the failed 15 July military coup, the government in Ankara has relatively free rein to implement policies and directives which appear to violate the principle of rule of law. Last week the emergency regulations were renewed for another three months, until mid-January 2017.
“They are never going to be happy with any foreigners doing Christian work in this country,” one Turkish church leader told World Watch Monitor. “So we have to take these government actions in proportion, realising there are so many countries in this region where expatriate Christians can’t even go openly.
“There are quite likely touchy issues involved here,” he said, referring to the flood of Syrian refugees and the Kurdish violence in the southeast, where many Christians are involved in humanitarian aid.
So for expatriate Christians involved in church ministries in Turkey, their routine residence visa renewal procedures now appear somewhat tentative.