US President Donald Trump, who received his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the White House on Tuesday, asked him to secure to release of an American pastor who was jailed in Turkey due to alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement, according to Turkish broadcaster CNN Türk on Wednesday.
Andrew 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 had 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. 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 and whose views inspired the Gülen movement.
Turkey’s president, Erdoğan, has labeled Gülen a terrorist and believes he was behind a failed coup attempt in July, a charge strongly denied by Gülen.
According to CNN Türk, both Trump and US Vice President Mike Pence brought up the issue of Brunson’s release during a meeting between the Turkish and American delegations on Tuesday.
A statement released by the White House also said Trump asked for Brunson’s release for three times and immediate deportation to the US during the meeting with Erdoğan.
Brunson’s lawyer Jay Sekulow, who met with Trump before the Erdoğan meeting, announced that Trump promised to save his client from jail.