Date: October 1, 2017
ISTANBUL, TURKEY (BosNewsLife)--Christians in Turkey have urged prayers for an imprisoned American pastor after Turkey's president linked his release to the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based Muslim cleric accused by Ankara of instigating last year’s failed coup attempt, rights activists told BosNewsLife.
Pastor Andrew Brunson was detained with his wife in October 2016 and learned they faced deportation as the government saw them as "a threat to national security," BosNewsLife established.
His wife was eventually released, but Andrew remained jailed in the city of Izmir after a court appearance and allegations linking him to the Fethullah Gulen group, Christians involved in the case said.
This year, August 24, Brunson also faced charges of obtaining "confidential political and military information for
espionage purposes" to "overthrow the Turkish Parliament and Government and undermine the constitutional order of the State," said advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC) in a statement to BosNewsLife.
"The state prosecutor has asked for four consecutive life sentences," added MEC, which closely monitors the situation. Brunson has consistently denied such activities and reportedly said that he is "a man of faith" whose "aim is to tell about Jesus Christ."
MEC claimed that neither the pastor nor his lawyer "have had access to his case file or any evidence" submitted.
Amid the controversy, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan "spoke to police officers at the Presidential Palace in Ankara
about the possibility of releasing Brunson in return for the extradition of Gulen," MEC said.
However, Gulen says he has no plans to flee the United States and will accept extradition if Washington agrees to a request by Ankara to hand him over.
The U.S. State Department said the pastor had been wrongfully detained and efforts continue to obtain his release. But referring to Erdogan's suggestion of a prisoner swap, spokeswoman Heather Nauert responded: "I can't imagine that we would go down that road."
MEC said that a new decree introduced in August had given Erdogan the authority "to approve the exchange of foreigners detained or convicted in Turkey with people held in other countries in situations required by national security or national interests."
In remarks published by MEC and obtained by BosNewsLife Turkish Christians requested fellow believers to pray that the pastor "will be released soon and be reunited with his family," that "God will make His presence felt" and "encourage Andrew and his family in this difficult time."
They also urged prayers that "those engaged in negotiations for Andrew's release will have much wisdom" and that "Justice and righteousness will prevail in Turkey" so "the officials involved in bringing false charges will be stopped."
His detention comes amid wider concerns about pressure on devoted Christians in Turkey where violence and other tensions have impacted the number of Christian believers staying in Turkey.
Among Christians targeted were German missionary Tilmann Geske and Turkish converts Necati Aydin and Uğur Yüksel who were repeatedly stabbed and had their throats cut when extremists attacked them at a Christian 'Zirve Publishing House' in Malatya.
The 2007 attack came months after the killing of the ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink and a year after the murder of a Catholic priest in northern Turkey. In all cases, the alleged killers were believed to have been nationalist-minded young men or even teenagers.
Turkish nationalists often view Christian missionaries as a threat to Islam, though only around 100,000 devoted Christians are left in Turkey - less than 1 percent of the population, according to several sources. (With reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos and reports from the region).