[U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback addresses reporters after a disappointing court hearing for Pastor Andrew Brunson.]
After only one day of testimony, the outcome of the first hearing for U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson has not gone as we hoped. Late on Monday, a Turkish judge ordered a continuation of the Brunson trial with the second hearing scheduled for May 7.
In another devastating blow, the judge refused to release Andrew and sent him back to prison. He will have to wait out the next three weeks in the prison where he was originally jailed–known to be especially grim and overcrowded, where almost two dozen prisoners are held in one cell.
In his podcast, American Center for Law and Justice Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow called this latest development “disturbing,” saying the situation had taken a “bleak turn.”
“As you can imagine, the news is devastating to Pastor Andrew and his family,” Sekulow said, adding that the delay and return to a much worse prison is an escalation of his case.
The 62-page indictment accuses Brunson of the supposed “crime” of “Christianization,” calling it an act of terror. The day was reportedly filled with video testimony of secret prosecution witnesses whose voices and appearances were disguised.
Deeply Disappointed and Concerned
Sam Brownback, US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, traveled to Turkey to be at the hearing. Afterward, he addressed press saying, “We remain deeply concerned about the continued arbitrary detention of U.S. citizens and local employees of the U.S. Mission in Turkey.”
Brownback is reported to be in the Turkish capital Ankara on Tuesday (April 17) for meetings about the Brunson trial, which is complicating relations between the United States and Turkey, two NATO allies.
“That relationship is going to have difficulty moving forward as long as Andrew Brunson is incarcerated,” Brownback told reporters at the trial, according to Reuters.
The US International Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has condemned the charges against Pastor Brunson and called for his immediate release.
USCIRF Chairman Daniel Mark said on Monday, “We are deeply disappointed that Turkish officials today decided to prolong their prosecution and unjust imprisonment of Pastor Andrew Brunson. USCIRF’s position is clear. Pastor Brunson is an innocent religious leader whose imprisonment for over 18 months on false allegations is an abomination. This latest development is yet another reason for the international community to condemn his imprisonment and for Congress and the administration to consider stronger steps against Turkey, including the imposition of targeted sanctions against those involved in their miscarriage of justice.”
Before the trial began on Sunday, Pastor Brunson’s lawyer, Ismail Cem Halavurt, said he believed Brunson would ultimately be acquitted and there was no reason for his continued detention during trial. “Our prior expectation from the hearing is ending the arrest,” he told Reuters News Agency, adding that there is evidence that shows Pastor Brunson was arrested due to his faith.
Continue to pray with us
As the body of Christ, we are called to continue to pray with Pastor Brunson and his family. As Open Doors’ Prayer Ambassador Kate Yates reminds us in her latest column, as Christ’s witnesses (Acts 1:8), we are to bear each other’s burdens.
Please write and leave your prayer on the Prayer Wall that Open Doors has created for Pastor Brunson and his family. You can also read the prayers of hundreds of others that give us strength and hope in the face of disappointment…
Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:26).
“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3).
To write and share your prayer, click here: Andrew Brunson Prayer Wall