An American pastor who has been jailed on bogus terrorism charges in Turkey for more than five months has asked US President Donald Trump to help secure his release.
“I plead with my government — with the Trump Administration — to fight for me,” Andrew Craig Brunson wrote in a letter to the Trump administration from his jail cell in the western Turkish province of İzmir.
Brunson, a North Carolina native, has been in custody since October after he and his wife were detained on immigration violation charges. At the time, the Brunsons were running a small Christian church in İzmir. They have lived in Turkey for 23 years.
Brunson’s wife, Norine, was soon released, but the pastor remained in custody and soon saw his charges upgraded to terrorism.
Brunson has no known ties to terrorist groups, and the Turkish government has not produced any evidence to show that he does. Prosecutors have suggested in court hearings that Brunson is being held on suspicion of being a follower of Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric living in self-exile in Pennsylvania.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has labeled Gülen a terrorist and believes he was behind a failed coup attempt in July, a charge strongly denied by Gülen.
There has been some speculation that the Turkish government is holding Brunson as a bargaining chip in its effort to force the US government to extradite Gülen. The Erdoğan regime has asked both the Obama and Trump administrations to deport Gülen to Turkey to face trial.
In his letter, which was given to US Embassy consular officials during a recent meeting with Brunson, the pastor calls himself a political prisoner and says that the Turkish government should face consequences for jailing him without cause.
“Will the Turkish government face no consequence for stubbornly continuing to hold an American citizen as a political prisoner?” Brunson asks in the letter, which was published by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a non-profit group helping the pastor.
Since being imprisoned on Oct. 7, the “Turkish government has produced no proof and has rebuffed numerous attempts by the American government to secure my return to the United States,” says Brunson.
“In fact they are treating the US government with contempt and paying no price for it.”
“I plead with my government — with the Trump Administration — to fight for me. I ask the State Department to impose sanctions. I appeal to President Trump: please help me. Let the Turkish government know that you will not cooperate with them in any way until they release me. Please do not leave me here in prison.”
The ACLJ echoed Brunson’s call.
“The US government must take a more active role in fighting for Pastor Andrew’s release. He has done nothing wrong. He is a US citizen wrongfully imprisoned in a foreign land because of his Christian faith. He deserves to be free,” the group said in a statement.
Last month, a bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter to Erdoğan asking for Brunson’s release. The ACLJ also asked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to help Brunson. Tillerson met with Erdoğan in Ankara on Thursday, but it is not clear whether the former ExxonMobil CEO brought up Brunson’s case.