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‘It’s time to be real: what happens in Iraq is ethnic cleansing’ – UK analyst

What Iraq’s Christians want from the West is to say the plain truth: that there is ethnic cleansing of Christians in the region and it is ongoing, Dr Tim Stanley told a meeting at the UK’s parliament last Tuesday, 9 July.

The historian and columnist, working for UK daily newspaper The Telegraph, just returned from a visit to Iraq’s Nineveh Plains.

“If we don’t say what is really happening in the region, which is ethnic cleansing of both Christians and Yazidis, we allow Islamic State and other perpetrators to get away with it,” Stanley told the audience at the event, ‘The Global Persecution of Christian Minorities’, organised by the Henry Jackson Society, a British foreign-policy think tank.

Since Islamic State was pushed out of the region, displaced Iraqis have slowly started to return to their communities but continue to live in fear and they continue to be vulnerable. Pockets of IS fighters are still active and the group has said it started the fires that in recent weeks torched hundreds of acres of land and crops, “owned by infidels”, in northern Iraq.

Meanwhile, Iranian-backed militias have moved into areas previously under IS-control, discouraging people to trade with Christians, Stanley said.

In January, a UN team started investigations in the country to collect evidence of genocide and war crimes committed by Islamic State fighters, in order to take the perpetrators to court in Iraq. The UN has been reluctant to recognise the violence against Christians and Yazidis as genocide, despite pressure from civil society groups and some of its own member states such as the Netherlands.

‘Instruments of the West’

Those who have returned to their communities and want to leave, face challenges such as the western visa application processes, according to Stanley.

The US, under the Trump administration, has taken fewer Iraqi refugees in than it did during the Obama administration. Instead, it sent an aid package of US$35 million to the region to support Iraqi Christians and Yazidis who had suffered under IS occupation. The UK also has been slow on the uptake.

Stanley acknowledged that it’s not always a simple matter of putting pressure on governments to treat Christians fairly. Christians often are considered to be instruments of Western governments, and as such are regarded as a threat to national identity or security. The challenge, then, is to help Christians without exposing them to undue risk, he said.

For the UK government, this could mean including the topic of religious freedom in future trade negotiations, said Dr Matthew Rees, Head of Advocacy for Open Doors UK and Ireland. It is one of the policy recommendations the Christian religious-freedom charity has made to the country’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the back of an independent review of how the government department supports persecuted Christians.

“Just like climate change, the topic of religious freedom is not a one-party or single-leader issue but something to grow consensus around”, Rees said.

Home after 21 months, but US pastor Andrew Brunson now can’t leave house till October trial

Pastor Andrew Brunson released from Turkish prison and put under house arrest

A crowd of Turkish Christians from Andrew Brunson’s Izmir Resurrection Church greeted their pastor with cries of “We love you, Andrew!” as he arrived home under police escort on Wednesday afternoon, 25 July.

(World Watch Monitor) After nearly 22 months in detention, Brunson was released at 5.30pm from Izmir’s Kiriklar maximum security prison and transferred to house arrest following a court order responding to his lawyer’s appeal, which cited health reasons.

However, the pastor will now not be allowed to leave the confines of his home until his next hearing, scheduled for 12 October.

Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for 23 years, has been on trial for terrorism and spying charges – of having links with the Fethullah Gülen movement, which the Ankara government blames for the failed July 2016 coup attempt, and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Last week the Second High Penal Court in the western province of İzmir rejected an appeal to release him in its latest hearing, 18 July, and decided to continue listening to the testimonies of witnesses in the next hearing. Western observers in the court told World Watch Monitor there was not one piece of evidence so far produced to indicate the pastor is guilty of any crime, and that his trial is for political expediency. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wants Gülen to be extradited back to Turkey (the cleric is currently living in the US) to stand trial for the 2016 coup.

Brunson was detained nearly two years ago, in October 2016, and faces up to 35 years in prison if found guilty. The pastor has completely denied all the charges, calling them “shameful and disgusting”.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga, who attended the hearing in Aliağa, near Izmir, welcomed his release from prison but said more needed to be done.

“This is welcome news,” she said. “It is good that Pastor Brunson will have some relief after being held in a Turkish prison for more than 600 days. But it is not enough. The Turkish government has deprived this innocent man of his due process rights and liberty for too long, and it must completely release him. If it fails to do so, the Trump Administration and the Congress should respond strongly and swiftly with targeted sanctions against the authorities responsible.”—

Keep praying!

 

 

Judge Rules in Favor of Group of Asylum Seeking Iranians

Advocates for a group of nearly 90 Christian and other religious-minority refugees from Iran are praising a ruling by a federal judge in California earlier this week that forces the Trump administration to reconsider their asylum requests after issuing a blanket denial of all of them earlier this year.

(Mohabat News)  The refugees and U.S. human rights activists representing their interests say the decision is a break-through in a troubling case that has left the group of Iranians marooned in Vienna and has earned the sympathy and attention of a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress, as well as high-level Trump administration officials.

Since the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) denied their asylum applications en masse in February, the group has been left in limbo in Vienna, unable either to return to Iran out of fear of further persecution and possible death or to reunite with family members or other sponsors in the U.S.

“It’s a step in the right direction, and we’re happy that the court recognizes that the government can’t just use whatever terms it wants [to deny these applicants]. It has to follow what Congress intended this program to be—to give heightened protections to these Iranian Christians and Mandaeans and other religious minorities,” Mariko Hirose, who serves as the litigation director for International Refugee Assistance Project in New York, told the Washington Free Beacon.

The Iranian individuals and their family members applied for refugee resettlement in the United States under the Lautenberg Amendment, a law Congress first passed in 1989 to facilitate refugee admission of Jews fleeing the former Soviet Union. Lawmakers expanded the program in 2004 to include religious minorities in Iran.

The Iranians had traveled to Vienna from Tehran at the invitation of the U.S. government to complete their applications as part of this unique Lautenberg refugee program.

The program has quietly admitted an estimated 30,000 persecuted Iranians, mainly Jews and Christians, but also Mandaeans, Zoroastrians, and Baha’is, over the last decade at a near 100 percent acceptance rate without incident, according to U.S. lawmakers familiar with the acceptance record.

However, the Obama administration first started imposing a new vetting process for all asylum applicants in 2016, the first roadblocks for the group of nearly 90 Iranians.

Then in February, after the individuals had already spent nearly a year waiting at an intermediary vetting facility in Vienna—the same facility used for years for the Lautenberg program without incident—the DHS flatly denied the group without providing the reasons behind the decision.

The DHS denials said only that the applicants were being barred from resettling in the U.S. as “a matter of discretion.”

A State Department spokeswoman earlier this year did not elaborate on why DHS had denied the group of Iranians, saying only the “safety and security of the American people are paramount,” and that “Iranian refugee applicants under this program are subject to the same security vetting processes that apply to refugee applicants of other nationalities considered for admission to the United States of America.”

U.S. District Court Judge Beth Labson Freeman on Tuesday ordered DHS to disclose individual reasons for the denials within 14 days of her ruling, which allows the claimants to appeal. The refugees have 90 days to file their appeals, which could reopen their cases.

If they are once again denied, DHS would have to follow their own regulations and provide a substantive reason for the denials, according to Hirose.

In addressing the unique aspects of the Lautenberg Amendment, which governs this group’s applications, Freeman wrote that DHS “retains an enormous amount of authority and discretion to adjudicate refugee applications, but they do not have the discretion to violate the law.”

The vague DHS denial notices, the judge said, leaves the applicants in an untenable position.

“Without a reason for the denial, the applicants are left to guess at which factors and circumstances DHS considered,” she said. “Any meaningful review of the denials becomes impossible because plaintiffs are effectively shadowboxing against themselves.”

Evidence that applications of at least 38 of the individuals denied admission in February received “identical notices of ineligibility raises the inference that the denials were not, in fact, individualized,” she continued.

Hirose says Congress was very clear when it passed the Lautenberg Amendment that if the U.S. government denies an asylum claim, it must provide a reason “to the maximum extent feasible.”

The mass denials were such a devastating blow because the group of Iranians had already uprooted from their home country, leaving jobs and selling possessions and expected a smooth transition to the United States.

After previous asylum seekers left Iran, they were able to travel onward to the United States in just a few months, Hirose said.

“That’s how this program used to be, and it was really a surprise and completely unprecedented when these mass denials happened in February,” she said.

The group’s plight has attracted the attention and support of key lawmakers in Congress who called on Vice President Pence to intervene on their behalf in late January.

Reps. Randy Hultgren (R., Ill.) and James McGovern (D., Mass.), co-chairs of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in Congress, sent a letter to Pence arguing that the Lautenberg Amendment requires DHS to presume that all Iranian religious minorities are eligible for refugee status in the United States.

“DHS and State must make every effort to continue to accept thousands of Iranian religious minorities currently waiting in Iran and take steps to prioritize and expedite any relevant security checks,” they added.

They also highlighted Pence’s and other Trump administration officials’ repeated promises to come to the defense of persecuted Christians in Iran and throughout the Middle East.

“You have made clear that the Trump administration will take the lead in helping to end these persecutions,” they wrote. “In Vienna, Austria, there are 100 victims of persecution waiting for the United States to act. Thank you for doing what you can to move DHS and State to accept these refugees.”

A White House official told the Free Beacon in January that the administration is paying “careful attention to the issue” and was working to find a solution.

“High-level administration officials are monitoring the progress,” the official said. “Certain complexities exist that the administration has to work through, including human-rights concerns and national security. But the administration is certainly engaged.”/The Washington free beacon

America ups the ante over Pastor Brunson’s detention

(World Watch Monitor) The American Charge d’Affaires in Ankara has said that Turkey’s continued detention of pastor Andrew Brunson on spying and terrorism-related charges is impeding US-Turkish relations.

Philip Kosnett said there is a “strong sense of unity in Congress between Republicans and Democrats” on the need for Brunson to be released and “a similar sense of unity between Congress and the administration that in order for the relationship between Turkey and the US to progress, we need to resolve that status not only for Brunson but also for other American citizens and local Turkish employees of US missions who we feel are detained unjustly under the state of emergency”.

According to the Turkish daily Hurriyet, Kosnett said that resolving those cases would improve “prospects for progress” in other areas of co-operation, such as security in northern Syria. He was speaking to reporters yesterday as it emerged that two senators travelled to Turkey last week to lobby Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for the release of Pastor Brunson, whom they visited in prison.

Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen met President Erdoğan in Ankara last Friday (29 June) after visiting Pastor Brunson in prison in the Aliağa district of the western city of Izmir earlier that day, the New Hampshire Union Leader reported.

Following their previously undisclosed trip, Shaheen told the New Hampshire Union Leader: “Pastor Brunson has been unjustly imprisoned and kept away from his family for well over one year. The opportunity to see him and his wife, Norine, and to appeal directly to President Erdogan, were my main objectives on this trip.

“Any time an American is wrongfully detained anywhere by a foreign government, it is our country’s duty to do everything we can to bring him or her home.”

Shaheen, the senior senator from New Hampshire, is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees. She has been outspoken in calling for the US to sanction Turkey over the detention of Pastor Brunson, who has been behind bars for more than 20 months. Shaheen and Republican Senator Thom Tillis secured an amendment in the National Defense Authorization Act that bars Turkey from buying F-35 fighter jets, because of its continued detention of Brunson.

“I am confident that the Turkish President understands this, and I appreciated the opportunity to raise my concerns. The US-Turkey relationship is of strategic importance to both countries,” Shaheen added.

The Turkish presidency did not issue a statement after the meeting.

The senators’ visit took place 10 days before Erdogan’s scheduled meeting with US President Donald Trump on the margins of a NATO summit in Brussels, Hurriyet noted.

Brunson’s third hearing is set for 18 July. Prosecutors have accused Brunson, pastor of the Izmir Resurrection Church, of having ties with supporters of Fethullah Gülen, the Muslim cleric Turkey has demanded be extradited by the US in exchange for Brunson, and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, and are seeking a 35-year sentence. He denies all the charges.

Meanwhile, a leading Turkish commentator wrote that “many” diplomats in Ankara expect his imminent release and deportation. In a column for Hurriyet, Serkan Demirtas suggested that the political fall-out of Brunson’s continued detention in Turkey was proving too costly.

“Brunson, who has been in jail since late 2016, seems to be much too costly for Turkey, and his continued detention would further complicate the situation. That is why many diplomats in Ankara expect his potential release followed by his deportation, pending trial on the July 18 hearing,” he wrote.

“Of course, it is impossible to foresee what the court’s decision will be, but his release would sure help the ongoing reconciliation process between Turkey and the US.”

North Koreans ‘betrayed’ by human rights omission in Trump-Kim agreement

(World Watch Monitor) North Koreans were “betrayed” by the failure of US President Donald Trump to include human rights provisions in his agreement with the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, following their historic meeting in Singapore, according to Human Rights Watch’s Asia Director, Phil Robertson.

“The North Korean people have suffered for so long,” he told the BBC World Service, “and it looks like they’ll have to suffer for a little longer.”

But after the meeting Trump said the many North Koreans currently being held in forced-labour camps were “one of the great winners today”.

Responding to a question from ABC News’s Jon Karl about whether North Korea’s oppression of its people was worse than any other regime on earth, Trump said: “It’s a rough situation over there; there’s no question about it, and we did discuss it today pretty strongly.

“I mean, knowing what the main purpose of what we were doing is – de-nuking – but we did discuss it in pretty good length.

“We’ll be doing something on it. It’s rough; it’s rough in a lot of places, by the way, not just there, but it’s rough and we will continue that, and I think ultimately we will agree to something, but it was discussed at length. Outside of the nuclear situation, [it was] one of the primary topics.”

‘Very deep resentment’

John Choi*, a Christian human rights advocate who escaped from North Korea and now lives in the UK, was more optimistic.

“Hopefully denuclearisation will lead to more money available to feed the everyday citizens of North Korea and provide them with a better life. President Trump said that the human rights issues are a continuing process. I am glad it is now on the agenda. But Kim Jong-un has to be committed to it too. Kim Jong-un has not yet referred to the prison camps or religious freedom. This is an ongoing process and I will continue to advocate and pray for it,” he told the Christian religious freedom charity Open Doors International.

But Yong Sook, whose husband died in a North Korean prison and who now lives in South Korea, told Open Doors she watched the meeting between the US president and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un “with very deep resentment”.

“How many innocent people have died because of the development of the nuclear weapons they are talking about now?” she said. “So far, none of the leaders of North Korea have really taken care of their people. They let them starve to death. Why? Because they don’t want to give up those nuclear weapons. They need them to survive and survival is Kim Jong-un’s desire. Now he wants to give up those weapons? Maybe, but again, he will only give them up if his survival is guaranteed.

“Kim Jong-un should confess what he and his regime have done. He should open the doors of the political camps and kneel down to apologise to those who have suffered due to its regime. The lives of North Korean citizens are just as important as Kim Jong-un’s life.”

Christian roots

Historically, North Korea has a rich Christian heritage, but after Japan’s formal rule from 1910-1945, followed by the Korean War (1950-53), any form of public Christian worship has been banned, and surviving Christians have had to take their beliefs “underground”.

Today North Korea is atheistic and totalitarian, and since 2002 it has been the most dangerous place to be a Christian, according to Open Doors.

If you “merged the Soviet Union under Stalin with an ancient Chinese Empire, mixed in The Truman Show and then made the whole thing Holocaust-esque, you have modern-day North Korea”, Tim Urban wrote in the Huffington Post after visiting the country in 2017.

“It’s a dictatorship of the most extreme kind, a cult of personality beyond anything Stalin or Mao could have imagined; a country as closed off to the world and as secretive as they come, keeping both the outside world and its own people completely in the dark about one another — a true hermit kingdom.”

‘70,000 Christians detained’

There are approximately 300,000 Christians in the country, with almost a quarter of them (70,000) being held in prisons and labour camps, where they face “unimaginable torture, inhumane and degrading treatment purely because of their faith”, according to Zoe Smith, Head of Advocacy at Open Doors UK & Ireland.

Leading up to the summit, North Korea released three American citizens who had been put in labour camps for “anti-state activities”. One of the detainees, Kim Hak Song, recently said his captors had told him he was imprisoned because of his “hostile act” of prayer.

“The systematic persecution of Christians is just one of many heinous human rights violations perpetrated by the North Korean regime,” Smith said. “If true change is to come to that country – and we hope it will – any further negotiations must confront the desperate human rights situation.”

Meanwhile North Korea appears to be upgrading its longstanding neighbourhood-watch system, or ‘inminban’, whereby every North Korean is called upon to report on any criminal activity or political disobedience that they see. According to the South Korea-based news service Daily NKinminban leaders now receive special rations in return, while in some places, like the capital Pyongyang, they have the authority to expel families who have engaged in illegal activities.

According to the US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2017, there were more than 1,300 religious-freedom violations in North Korea last year, while it is estimated that its camps hold more than 120,000 political prisoners.

In December three jurists called on the International Criminal Court to establish a special tribunal to prosecute North Korea’s leader and his top officials for committing “crimes against humanity”.

(*) Name changed for security reasons

Brunson’s lawyer: secret witness practice ‘absolutely outlandish’

Lawyer Ismail Cem Halavurt speaking with journalists at the entrance to the Sakran Prison complex on 7 May, 2018. (World Watch Monitor)

(World Watch Monitor) At the close of Turkey’s second trial hearing against US pastor Andrew Brunson, his lawyer has sharply protested the Izmir court’s reliance on secret prosecution witnesses against his client.

Jailed for the past 19 months, the 50-year-old Evangelical Presbyterian minister was sent back to his cell in a maximum-security prison for another 10 weeks, until the third hearing set for 18 July.

“This secret witness issue is absolutely outlandish. It is not just related to our case; the secret witness issue has a very serious problem,” his lawyer, Ismail Cem Halavurt, told a Deutsche Welle reporter after the hearing.

“This case cannot proceed by just relying on secret witnesses’ testimony,” Halavurt said.

“Supporting evidence must come alongside these allegations. Our Supreme Court decisions regarding this are very plain: witness testimony claims are not sufficient to prolong a jailed person’s detention. In spite of reminding the court of this repeatedly, [Brunson’s detention] is being continued. This is not acceptable.”

“There is not a single piece of evidence,” he added, referring to the latest sensational allegations thrown against his client just that morning by a secret witness called ‘Serhat’. The witness claimed Brunson was plotting to set up a Kurdish Christian state, helping transfer US weapons to a Kurdish militia in Syria with his “missionary team”, and collaborating with well-known supporters of Fethullah Gülen, the Muslim cleric Turkey has demanded be extradited by the US in exchange for Brunson.

“Brunson’s release was obligatory, but unfortunately today [7 May] his release did not happen,” Halavurt said, vowing to file the necessary petitions before the third hearing “so this illegal detention will be brought to an end”.

“We will struggle to get Brunson set free,” he added.

The lawyer told reporters he had listened to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu’s comments about Brunson’s case just hours before the second hearing began.

“They say ‘the [Turkish] government should release him,’” Çavuşoğlu told CNNTURK. “Is it up to me? This is a decision the judiciary will make.”

But Halavurt said that to think the government’s political statements and opinions will not influence the judiciary is illogical, saying: “This case has been overly politicised.”

“Honestly, I don’t have any satisfaction that this court is able to make an independent, unbiased decision,” Halavurt said. “If you look at the [legal] obligations of the court, this issue is crystal clear; to continue imprisonment is illegal.”

The lawyer said he would persist in demanding Brunson’s legal right to be released from custody for the duration of the trial, expressing concern that the court’s refusal has caused the pastor serious psychological distress.

Sensational political allegations

During the 10-hour hearing on Monday, 7 May, the prosecution presented two secret witnesses who testified via video linkage, with their faces blurred on huge overhead screens and voices altered. Another five witnesses testified openly in person in the courtroom.

At the outset of the hearing, the presiding judge noted that missionary activity is in fact legal in Turkey. But the prosecution witness testimony revealed each individual’s distrust of ‘hidden’ motives behind Brunson’s Christian activities, which they linked to his alleged involvements with Kurdish terrorism and the now-banned Islamic network of the Fethullah Gülen movement, accused by Ankara of launching the failed 15 July, 2016 coup to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government.

For nearly two rambling hours, the secret witness referred to as ‘Serhat’ recounted events and activities in which he claimed Brunson was involved. Although he described himself as a Christian, Serhat admitted repeatedly that he had not himself heard or witnessed the claims he was relating. Rather, he had “seen social-media accounts” displaying the sympathies of some people attending the church for the illegal Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), or been told things by various sources.

As coordinator of the ‘religious arm’ of the PKK, Serhat said, Brunson was arranging the transfer of arms being sent by the US to the Kurdish PYD (Democratic Union Party) affiliates of the PKK. “I learned this from the son of a diplomat who had worked for years at the US Embassy [in Ankara],” Serhat claimed.

Saying Brunson talked about forming a new state and preparing for a great war, Serhat claimed he had chosen a “Kurdish pastor” for south eastern Turkey who was working among the Syrian refugees to establish Kurdish Christians in all 81 provinces of Turkey.

Categorically denying Serhat’s claims, Brunson told the court: “This witness gave not a single piece of evidence. He said, ‘I heard all this from second- or third-hand individuals.’”

Looking up at the state prosecutor and panel of three judges seated on the bench above him, Brunson said: “I am helping refugees, and they say I’m aiding the PKK. I am setting up a church, and they say I’m being supported by the Gülen network. But this is just verbal testimony from these witnesses. Where is the proof, the evidence?”

The presiding judge sharply reproved Brunson’s demand for evidence, declaring that physical proof, such as photographs or documents, was not required for the court to decide what was credible evidence.

Prosecution chooses jailed thief to testify

Brunson declared that he had never seen or met the first three open witnesses, two of whom were prisoners brought from jail under guard to testify. One of them, Ali Daloğlu, claimed he had observed Brunson three times along the Turkish border when the pastor was going back and forth between Suruç, Gaziantep and Şanliurfa, involved with Syrian Kurds. He also said he had seen Brunson meeting in a hotel in Gaziantep with an active Gülenist, who he said was giving the pastor financial aid for Syrian refugees.

Brunson flatly denied ever seeing or knowing Daloğlu or any of the four Gülenist suspects he had named, declaring his testimony “disgusting”. When Halavurt was invited to cross-examine Daloğlu, the lawyer quoted from research documents he handed over to the court, revealing that Daloğlu had an ongoing prison record of 14 arrests for automobile thievery.

The last two witnesses were personal acquaintances known to Brunson. A young neighbour living near Brunson’s home testified he had seen many foreign visitors coming and going, and had “heard” from Turks who attended another Protestant church that the pastor was supporting PKK propaganda.

The last prosecution witness named Eyüp Çakir said he had known Brunson for six years and regularly attended his church for some time, but then became uncomfortable about the influx and active involvement of Kurds in the church leadership and worship, which he considered a “provocation” among the Turkish congregation.

“The Turks were humiliated in the church,” Çakir claimed, saying other Turks like him decided to leave because PKK sympathisers formed a separate group and were praising the PKK. “In the church there were flags to support the PKK,” he claimed. “The church was like the camp of the PKK… For the past three years, his church has been promoting division.”

Brunson was asked by the presiding judge, “Why did you have relations with a person who was sympathetic to the PKK?” The pastor responded: “In our church there were both radical [Turkish] nationalists and Kurds. I am related the same way to both of them. Actually, to be Kurdish is one thing; to be PKK is another.”

“I responded to all these false charges in the first hearing of this trial,” Brunson continued. “I want to say clearly, the PKK is a terrorist organisation. I never thought differently.” Çakir admitted on the witness stand that he opened a fake Facebook page in Brunson’s name and began posting pro-terrorist items on it, vowing to Brunson: “I will destroy your PKK church.” The pastor said he told Çakir, “You are the most dangerous person in our church,” and refused to accept him back into the church.

The Brunson family’s pastor, Richard White from North Carolina (left), outside the Sakran Prison complex before the hearing for Andrew Brunson began, 7 May 2018.

Three defence witnesses rejected

At the close of the hearing, the 20 local observers seated with Brunson’s wife at the back of the courtroom were clearly disappointed with the judge’s ruling to decline the pastor’s request to be sent home under house arrest. But they were shocked to learn that the judicial panel had just rejected three of the 10 defence witnesses prepared to testify on Brunson’s behalf at the next hearing, because their names appear in the indictment.

The closing paragraph of the indictment lists more than 60 individuals or organisations named throughout the document, declaring them all “suspects” because of witness allegations that they were associated with Andrew Brunson and his activities. Halavurt told World Watch Monitor he is filing a formal protest over the exclusion of these three key witnesses from his defence portfolio.

Representing the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which has publicly campaigned for Brunson’s release as the innocent victim of false criminal charges, Vice Chair Sandra Jolley came from Washington to observe the trial. She was joined by Charge d’affaires Philip Kosnett and several consular officials from the US Embassy in Ankara.

Speaking to Turkish reporters outside the courthouse afterwards, Jolley said: “We leave the courthouse with serious concerns. Today’s 11 hours of proceedings were dominated by wild conspiracies, tortured logic and secret witnesses, but no real evidence to speak of. Upon these rests a man’s life.”

“The truth is that this case is part of a larger decline in personal freedoms, including religious freedom and human rights, that we are witnessing in Turkey in recent years,” Jolley noted. “We are looking to the Turkish judiciary to uphold Pastor Brunson’s innocence.”

Brunson’s US-based pastor Richard White also flew from North Carolina to attend the hearing. When he returned home, he reportedly told his congregation (which includes Brunson’s parents) that he was “sad, angry, and resolute” after watching the proceedings.

Official UN inquiry begun

This week the American Center for Law and Justice, leading US advocacy efforts for Brunson, confirmed that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has taken up his case. Accordingly, before the first trial hearing on 17 April, this independent panel of international human rights experts sent an official inquiry to the Turkish government, requesting that it refute within 60 days the allegations that Brunson’s detention is arbitrary.

Brunson’s trial highlights Turkey’s ‘hostage diplomacy’ tactic

A photo of the Rev. Andrew Brunson during his time in prison. Photo courtesy of World Witness

(World Watch Monitor) On the eve of jailed US pastor Andrew Brunson’s second court hearing in Turkey, growing international comment has focused on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s transparent “hostage diplomacy” tactic, one of several issues seriously souring his nation’s relations with the United States.

The upcoming 7 May hearing near Turkey’s third-largest city of Izmir marks Brunson’s 19th month in custody. According to statistics released last week by the Turkish Justice Ministry, the Protestant pastor is one of 35,000 suspects under arrest and awaiting trial in Turkey on suspicion of supporting the accused perpetrators of a failed coup attempt against the Turkish government nearly two years ago, on 15 July 2016.

After 23 years in open church ministry in Turkey, Brunson was detained during Ankara’s widespread crackdown against the government-labelled Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organisation (FETO), led by a self-exiled Turkish cleric living in the US for the past two decades and accused of launching the deadly coup attempt.

Erdoğan has insisted repeatedly that Gülen be extradited back to Turkey, declaring 14 boxes of documents had been sent to the US Justice Department to prove Gülen’s guilt. The US has cited a lack of sufficient judicial evidence to authorise US courts to expedite the aged imam’s forced return to Turkey.

Last September, Erdoğan publicly proposed Brunson as a political bargaining chip, suggesting that if the US would send Gülen back to Turkey, the American pastor could be sent back to the US. The offer came four months after US President Donald Trump had surprised the Turkish President during his state visit to Washington, asking him in person to release Brunson. Most recently, after the first trial hearing against the pastor, Trump declared in an April 18 tweet that Brunson was “on trial and being persecuted in Turkey for no reason”.

Reporting from Washington, Hurriyet Daily News columnist Cansu Çamlibel said on 28 April: “There has been no single conversation between Trump and Erdoğan where the US President did not [say] Brunson’s name.”

Only seven weeks ago, the pastor and his Turkish lawyer finally learned the specific allegations on which his charges of alleged espionage and terrorism are based, most of them from “secret witnesses”. The prosecution has demanded 35 years in prison if Brunson is convicted of these charges, all of which he denied in his six-hour defence before Izmir’s 2nd Criminal Court on 16 April.

More than 50 members of the European Parliament wrote to President Erdoğan today (4 May), protesting Turkey’s treatment of the Protestant pastor “as a bargaining chip”. Expressing “deep concern about the wrongful imprisonment of Pastor Andrew Brunson,” the letter reiterated the Parliament’s resolution on 7 February, urging Turkey to respect its European and international commitments on the prohibition of arbitrary detention by releasing Brunson.

The letter also protested the indictment’s association of “Christianization” with terrorism, implying the Christian faith to be endangering Turkey’s unity. The signatories included Lars Adaktusson and Peter van Dalen, the vice-chair and co-chair, respectively, of the European Intergroup on Freedom of Religion.

Just last week, the US Congress passed legislation introducing “hostage-taking accountability” against Iran, notorious for its long-time habit of using this ploy against the citizens of Western nations as a tool of its foreign policy.

The new US laws enacted on 25 April mandate sanctions against Iranian officials responsible for “wrongful, politically motivated jailing of US citizens”. Condemning the practice of prolonged, politically motivated detentions as “a crime against humanity and a violation of customary international law”, the statutes go more strategically beyond blanket sanctions, which penalise all the Iranian people; instead, they target specifically the Iranian officials involved in hostage-taking.

Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, himself held as a political hostage for 18 months in Tehran by the Iranian government during the high-level negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal, applauded what he called “a long-overdue move” to curb “this particular bad habit” of hostage-taking.

“[Iranian officials] have … learned to ignore the personal nature of this crime in large part because none of them have ever been held accountable for it. Hostage-taking destroys lives, tears apart families and leaves lasting trauma in its wake. Are there human-rights abuses that are worse than this?” Rezaian asked. “Undoubtedly. But this is practice that flouts every international convention on human rights and must be ended. It is a tool of terrorists and pirates, not sovereign states.”

After the first hearing in Brunson’s trial, two-thirds of the US Senate members declared in a letter to President Erdoğan: “That a Turkish court could accept such a document as the basis for prosecution removes any shred of doubt that Andrew Brunson … is being used as a political pawn by elements of the Turkish government bent on destroying the longstanding partnership between two great nations.”

VOP note: We are preparing for the 24 hour Prayer Conference Call for Andrew Brunson, which begins tonight at 9 p.m. (EST). We invite you to come on the call as we pray, united, for the Lord to intervene on behalf of Andrew and the persecuted church, globally. Click here for call information.

Jailed US pastor still refused ‘due process’ in Turkey

A photo of the Rev. Andrew Brunson during his time in prison. Photo courtesy of World Witness

(World Watch Monitor) As a high-level US delegation arrived in the Turkish capital [on 23 January], in an effort to resolve high-level tensions between the two NATO allies, discussions were slated to include what officials in Washington have termed the “wrongful detention” of US pastor Andrew Brunson for the past 15 months.

Led by Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Asian Affairs Jonathan Cohen, the bilateral meetings in Ankara are the first sessions of a Joint Coordination Committee recently established between Turkish and US diplomatic and justice officials.

With the visit coming right on the heels of the Turkish military’s “Operation Olive Branch”, launched over the past weekend in Syria’s Afrin province, the Turkish media stressed that the delegation included officials from the US Defense Ministry.

But according to a report in Hurriyet Daily News today, “The working group’s agenda includes a number of issues that have led to tension in bilateral relations in recent months, including the visa crisis and ongoing investigations of US consular staff.”

In Brunson’s case, the pastor of Izmir’s Resurrection Church was inexplicably detained some weeks after a failed 15 July, 2016 coup attempt against the Turkish government. After two months’ refusal to deport him, it became clear he had been caught up in Ankara’s massive crackdown to identify and punish the so-called Fethullah Gülen Terror Organisation (FETO) network accused of infiltrating Turkey’s armed forces and government and masterminding the coup.

In the ongoing state of emergency law ever since, 50,150 “suspected” judges, prosecutors, soldiers, academics, journalists, human rights activists and police officers have been jailed and held for months in pre-trial detention for supporting Gülen, an exiled Turkish Muslim cleric residing in the US.

Still no indictment

Fifteen months after Brunson was first detained and threatened with deportation on 7 October, 2016, Turkey’s judiciary still hasn’t issued any written indictment spelling out the allegations against him.

According to vague reports in Turkey’s pro-government media, his charges are based on “secret evidence” and a “secret witness” accusing Brunson of trying to overthrow the Turkish government.

He and his lawyer continue to be denied access to his confidential case file. In effect, he has experienced no substantive “due process” – an individual’s legal entitlement to notice of a charge and a hearing before an impartial court of law.

After six months in a crowded cell with 20 Turkish prisoners also accused of Gülen links, Brunson was moved to the maximum security Kiriklar Prison in Izmir, where he has shared a cell with two Turkish prisoners.

He is allowed to leave his cell once a week for a scheduled visit with his wife or a US consular officer.

According to two US representatives who visited him in October on behalf of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, “He is the only American, the only English speaker, and the only Christian in the prison. He lives in a world of physical isolation and psychological dislocation.”

During his incarceration, he has missed his daughter’s wedding, and then her university graduation.

In late September, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan publicly declared that his government was holding Brunson as a political hostage, demanding that the US extradite Gülen back to Turkey in a prisoner “swap” for the pastor. Turkey insists that the evidence it has sent to the US proves that the cleric planned and orchestrated the coup attempt.

President Erdoğan declared further on 11 January that “as long as I hold office”, Turkey will not extradite any jailed “suspects” to the United States until Washington hands over Gülen. If Erdoğan persists, he will effectively cancel a 1979 extradition treaty between the US and Turkey on criminal matters.

Arrested at the age of 48, Brunson had raised his family and ministered in Turkey for 23 years. On 3 January, he spent his 50th birthday in his cell.

“We would never have imagined this kind of a birthday,” a close family member said. “Andrew did what he set out to do: he thanked God for the life he has had.” see below

As indicated in his only photograph from his imprisonment, Brunson has lost more than 50 pounds (20kg), becoming a pale, slender version of himself.

Voice of the Persecuted (VOP) note:

Pastor Andrew’s wife has recently shared, “This past month the tears have been flowing with a series of disappointments, including missing our daughter’s university graduation. Having those disappointments hit around Christmas made it all the harder.”

On January 1, 2018, a note from Andrew was shared that had been written a few weeks prior.

I am deeply grateful to all who have prayed for me. This trial – time in prison – has stretched me far more than I ever would have imagined. I have been very weak, had many doubts, felt very alone. I know that God’s grace is sustaining me, even when I do not feel that grace, and I know that the prayers of God’s people are surrounding me and giving strength. One of my big fears has been that I will be forgotten in prison. Thank you for not forgetting! It is a great encouragement to know there are people praying for me – it reminds me that I am not alone, and that I need to stand firm, with my face pointed in God’s direction always. Thank you for standing with me in this most difficult time.
Many blessings to you
Andrew

Responses poured in from that post to say that prayer is continuing. His wife expressed her extreme gratitude and said,  “I will pass some of these messages on to Andrew”.

Below is the most recent message from Andrew shared only two days ago.

Dear praying friends,

Each day I pray the following: “Father God pour out on me, your son, the courage, strength, endurance, perseverance and steadfastness of Jesus, that I may run the race set before me and finish well, a bride resplendent, purified in the fires of faithful obedience, and worthy of Jesus, my Beloved and King of Glory.” I pray this over my family as well. I supposed it applies to all of us, especially in times of trial and testing. I feel like I am living in Isaiah 50:10 – hanging on in the dark. Thank you for standing with me – and for me – in prayer, and sharing in my imprisonment. It is a great encouragement when Norine tells me that prayer continues, even after this long time. Again, I thank you. May the Lord accomplish his purposes, do a deep and thorough work in me – and do it quickly!

Andrew

Some have recently asked if they can send prayers and messages to Andrew in prison. We’re asking that you refrain from doing so at this time. If you would like to encourage the family and view the latest updates on Pastor Brunson, please visit this Facebook page. Your prayers may be shared with this dear pastor.

Keep praying!

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