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Calls intensify for release of TEDS alumnus Andrew Brunson in Turkey

Trinity CommunicationsApril 24, 2017

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Calls are intensifying for the release of Pastor Andrew C. Brunson, an alumnus of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, whom the Turkish government has detained for more than six months without indictment.

Brunson earned a Master of Arts in Evangelism from TEDS in 1991, and had served for 23 years as a pastor in Izmir, a city on Turkey’s west coast.

According to multiple media accounts, Turkish officials summoned Brunson and his wife Norine in October to a government office, where the pastor expected to obtain documents certifying permanent-resident status. Instead, officials detained the Brunsons on suspicion of supporting terrorism. Norine was released 12 days later. After a hearing in December, the government declined to deport Andrew and transported him to a prison, where he has been awaiting arraignment.

Trinity alumna Linda Walters Crandall (Master of Arts in Religion, ’98) recognized Brunson’s face in a network news report about the arrest. She remembered meeting Brunson during her time working in the Mission and Evangelism Department at TEDS.

“He was always really passionate about his calling, and serving God,” Crandall said.

“We ask the Trinity community to pray for Andrew Brunson’s timely release,” President David S. Dockery said. “We are thankful for his many years of faithful service in Turkey, and his love for the Turkish people.”

Although no formal charges exist, government leaders claim Brunson has ties to the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ). Family members say Brunson has no connection to the FETÖ, and that the arrest is part of a government effort in Turkey to encourage anti-Christian sentiment.

Jordan Sekulow, executive director of Washington-based American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), said Turkey should simply deport Brunson, rather than incarcerate him in a dangerous prison with criminals.

“This government is cracking down in a way that’s troublesome,” Sekulow said. “To take him out of a detention facility with people who are supposed to be deported, and (threaten) criminal charges against him — that is unacceptable for a NATO ally.”

The Brunson family has authorized the ACLJ to speak for them in the media and to provide legal advice.

According to Sekulow, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met recently with Norine Brunson in Turkey and spoke with high-ranking Turkish officials about the case. He said the Brunson family is encouraged by the responsiveness they have seen from U.S. leaders.

A bi-partisan group of 78 federal lawmakers signed a letter in February calling for Brunson’s release. Among the signatories was U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), the House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair.

Also in February, the ACLJ submitted a written plea for intervention through its European affiliate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

Sekulow says a statement Brunson made to U.S. diplomats who visited with him in prison is attracting new attention to the case.

“Will the Turkish government face no consequence for stubbornly continuing to hold an American citizen as a political prisoner?” Brunson asked in the statement. “Even though I have a long public track record as a church pastor, they falsely accuse me of being a member of an Islamist terrorist group.

“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.”

An online petition calling for Brunson’s release had nearly 270,000 signatures as of April 24.

Sekulow says although the situation is extremely serious, he remains optimistic the Turkish government will release Brunson.

“I still have great faith that they will,” Sekulow said.

(Photo courtesy American Center for Law and Justice)