The trial for Pastor Andrew Brunson began in Turkey around 10 p.m. last night, April 15, in the town of Aliaga, 38 miles north of Izmir, where Andrew has been imprisoned for the last 18 months and where he and his family led a small church for 23 years. Turkey is #31 out of 50 countries on the World Watch List where it is most dangerous to be a Christian.
Proceedings began with court officials reading the prosecutors’ indictment followed by Bruntson’s defense statement, in which he told the court in Turkish, “I don’t accept any of the allegations or accusations. I did not engage in any illegal activity. I had no relations with anyone engaged in such activity.
“I am a Christian pastor. I did not join an Islamic movement. Their aims and mine are different. I’ve never done something against Turkey. I love Turkey. I’ve been praying for Turkey for 25 years. I want truth to come out.”
North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis and Sam Brownback, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, are in Turkey at the trial.
In a report only hours ago, the ACLJ, which has been fighting for Brunson’s release, noted that hopefully, the physical presence of these leaders “might demonstrate to Turkey, and [Turkey] President Erdogan, how serious the U.S. is taking this case and how it might affect relations between our two countries.”
During a recess on Monday, Brownback told reporters that U.S.-Turkish relations would be affected if Brunson remained in prison.
“The United States cares deeply about our relationship with Turkey,” Brownback said, according to the Reuters news agency. “That relationship is going to have difficulty moving forward as long as Andrew Brunson is incarcerated.”
Prosecutors are seeking 15 years in prison against the pastor for alleged crimes and a further 20 years for allegedly obtaining state secrets for political and military spying purposes using his religious work as a cover. The indictment is based on the testimonies of witnesses, including three secret ones, and alleged digital evidence. Prosecutors claim the pastor worked to convert Kurds to Christianity to sow discord.
Before the trial began, Andrew’s daughter Jacqueline Furnari said her father’s mood has recently improved and that he had started to gain back some of the 50 pounds he lost over the last 18 months, where he has had limited contact with anyone.
“The start was very, very difficult,” she said. “It was a dark time. He’s anxious … but altogether he’s doing a lot better.”
Brunson’s lawyer, Ismail Cem Halavurt, said he expects Andrew to be released later on Monday over what he called “very weak” accusations, but cautioned:
“This is a special, delicate trial and if we look at other trials that have been held in this last period, we see that some people have been condemned without enough evidence, so it’s a risk we have to consider.”
Please continue to pray with us and leave your prayer on the Prayer Wall we have created specifically for Pastor Brunson and his family.