Protestant pastor arrested in Turkey over links to Gülen movement

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Andrew Craig Brunson (R) and Ryan Keating

A court in İzmir on Friday ruled for the arrest of American pastor Andrew Craig Brunson, a 20-year resident of Turkey, on charges of links to the Gülen movement, which is accused by the government of masterminding a failed coup on July 15.

Brunson and his wife Norine were detained in İzmir on Oct. 7 under Interior Ministry deportation orders. Although his wife was released on Oct. 19 and given permission to remain in Turkey, Rev. Brunson had been held at a detention center in Izmir.

The court ruled for the arrest of the American pastor on charges of “posing a threat to national security.” According to the Hürriyet daily, Brunson’s arrest was based on a tip from an anonymous informant in İzmir.

“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 [Friday’s] hearing,” the World Watch Monitor reported.

Brunson had survived an attack in 2011 while in the garden of a church in İzmir.

In a similar incident, another American pastor, Ryan Keating, who lived in Ankara for last 23 years along with his wife and children, was detained at İstanbul Atatürk Airport overnight on Oct. 8, interrogated and put on a plane to London.

Keating served at the Kurtuluş Church in Ankara and was completing his doctoral degree in the philosophy of religion at Ankara University.

According the Religion News news portal, Keating said he was locked in a room in Atatürk Airport— “Turkish police called it the guest house” — with 15 to 20 other people. “Some were suspected of being terrorists and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant [ISIL] members,” Keating said.

I was deemed a threat to national security that has become a blanket label used to deport anyone they don’t want without any evidence or investigation,” he added.

Turkey survived a military coup attempt on July 15 that killed over 240 people and wounded more than a thousand others. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement, a global civil society movement inspired by the views of the US-based Turkish scholar Fethullah Gülen.

The government, under an emergency decree, decided to take over hundreds companies, seized the assets of businessmen and shut down institutions linked with the movement.

Despite the fact that Gülen denied the accusation and called for an international investigation into the coup attempt, President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the Turkish government launched a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

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