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US pastor Andrew Brunson accused of using Christianity as part of a terrorist plot

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

(RNS) — A North Carolina pastor who has been jailed in Turkey will go on trial next month on charges he is a terrorist who used Christianity as his weapon.

That’s according to the indictment issued by a Turkish court earlier this week against Andrew Brunson, 50, who has been held by the Turkish government for a year and a half.

Brunson, a native of Black Mountain, a small town in western North Carolina, has lived and worked in Turkey for nearly 25 years. He faces a possible sentence of 35 years in prison.

Specifically, the Turkish prosecutors charged him with two crimes: membership in an armed terrorist organization and military espionage.

“They’ve basically equated Christianization with terrorism,” said CeCe Heil, executive senior counsel with the American Center for Law and Justice and Brunson’s U.S. attorney.

While Heil said she was not free to share the indictment, which her office translated from Turkish, she said Brunson is accused of being “an agent of unconventional warfare under the mask of being an evangelical church pastor.”

It further said his aim was “to advance the goals of groups designated by the Turkish government as armed terrorist organizations by means of Christianization using religious beliefs and sectarian differences to divide and separate the Turkish people.”

Brunson’s court date has been set for April 16. His Turkish lawyer, Cem Halavert, will represent him in court, Heil said.

Turkey, which is 99 percent Muslim, has cracked down on opponents and perceived opponents since a failed July 2016 coup. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen of orchestrating the coup and has proposed releasing Brunson if Washington agreed to extradite Gulen to Turkey.

“Give him (Gulen) to us, and we will try (Brunson) and return him,” Erdogan said last year, the AP reported.

“He’s a pawn in an ugly game of hostage diplomacy that Turkey is playing with the U.S.,” said Kristina Arriaga, vice chairwoman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Arriaga was one of two USCIRF members who met with Brunson in prison in October. She said he had lost 50 pounds and was not allowed to leave his cell except to see visitors.

A minister of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Brunson lived and worked on Turkey’s Aegean coast, where he served as pastor of Izmir Resurrection Church. He is married and has three children.

Brunson and his wife were initially detained as threats to national security. Two months later, he was accused of membership in an armed terrorist organization. In August 2017 he was accused of attempting to overthrow the government, attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, attempting to obstruct the Grand National Assembly and military espionage.

This week’s indictment, however, lists only two charges — membership in an armed terrorist organization and military espionage.

“Erdogan is acting as a strongman in digging in his heels to show the U.S. that he has the power,” Arriaga said. “But in reality, Erdogan is a classic bully picking on Andrew Brunson just as a bully would pick on an innocent person in the park — just to show dominance. It’s despicable.”

About the author

Yonat Shimron

Yonat Shimron is an RNS National Reporter and Senior Editor.

7 Comments

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  • “By means of Christianization” my fellow born-again Christian brother Andrew Brunson was impacting the people of Turkey?!

    TELL US THE TRUTH NOW.

    According to the gospels & epistles, however, what persecutors – and their prosecutors – of the fired-up & die-hard followers of Jesus do to them is judge them worthless; hurl jeers & insults at them; say all kinds of evil against them; mistreat them, chain them, imprison them, flog them, torture them; stone, saw or stab them to death. But this, only because of Him and nothing else!

    Or so according to Matthew 5:11, 27:39, 1 Peter 2:23, Hebrews 11:25, 35-38, Acts 7:59,16:23.

    In the case of this here Mr. “Christianization”, however, “in an indictment prosecutors presented to the court, [Andrew] Brunson is accused” – INSTEAD –

    (1) “Of committing crimes on behalf of the FETÖ and PKK terrorist group, and obtaining classified state information for political and military purposes”?!

    (2) “[Of making] frequent contacts with Bekir Baz, a fugitive point man for the FETÖ … his aide Murat Safa, and Amnesty Turkey Branch Executive Taner Kiliç, who is also being accused of aiding the FETÖ … [and of] being in contact with retired soldiers, special warfare officers or high-rank executives of the PKK and FETÖ”?!

    (3) “[Of] making speeches praising the FETÖ and the PKK at the church” – “at the Dirilis (Resurrection) Protestant church in Izmir”?!

    (4) “[Of] conducting systematic efforts targeting Kurdish citizens and founding the ‘Kurdish Church of the Messiah,’ where only Kurds are admitted”?!

    (5) “[Of] visit[ing] Ayn al-Arab … Kobani … controlled by the PKK’s Syrian offshoot the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing the People’s Protection Units (YPG)”?!

    (6) “[Of] organizing the 2013 Gezi Park riots [while] in possession of lists containing … names … [through] whom … he exchanged information through close contacts”?!

    Or so according to Daily Sabah, March 13, 2018, “US priest Brunson faces prison for espionage, aiding FETÖ, PKK terrorist groups”.

  • Erdogan is a wily demagogue who needs no rational or just reason to explain his actions or his charges. The path of his policies is strewn with victims.

  • Remember this, though? What were all these about, then? What really happened between US & Turkey? Say so if you’re clueless, otherwise.

    “Turkey and America: The Corridors of Intelligence and Geopolitics”, Global Research, April 5, 2007.

    “The US, Turkey, Israel ‘Triple Alliance'”, Global Research, July 16, 2014.

    “Turkey Accuses US of Being Behind Military Coup, Demands Extradition of Cleric Gulen”, ZeroHedge, July 16, 2016.

    “Turkey names second American coup plotter, CIA’s Henri Barkey, held secret meeting in Istanbul on night of coup”, SOTT, July 26, 2016.

    “Turkish Pro-Government Media Blames US, CIA for Assassination of Russian Ambassador”, ZeroHedge, December 20, 2016.

    “America has pushed Turkey straight into Russia’s arms”, The Duran, May 28, 2017.

  • Erdogan is demonizing Christianity just like tRump is demonizing Islam. What our ignorant “leader” fails to realize is his tactics will and are being turned against him and those who will bear the brunt are American citizens who become pawns in his irrational war against the rest of the world.

  • To the point, then, and staying on point per this article, my brother Andrew Brunson is one of such “pawns”?

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