Jailed US pastor’s daughter addresses UN Human Rights Council

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The daughter of jailed US pastor Andrew Brunson appealed to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva last week to help secure her father’s release from prison in Turkey, where he has been jailed for the past 17 months.

Declaring that her father had been “falsely imprisoned for far too long”, his married daughter Jacqueline noted that Brunson “has still not been formally charged with any crime”, as shown in a video posted by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).

A long list of undocumented accusations against the pastor have been reported in the Turkish media, including his alleged links to the Islamic network accused of launching the failed July 2016 coup attempt to overthrow the Turkish government. But to date, the Turkish judiciary has withheld any documentation on these charges and failed to release any formal indictment against him.

“I know the allegations against my father are absurd,” Jaqueline continued. “He is not an armed terrorist trying to overthrow any government. My father is a peaceful pastor.” Noting that she had grown up in Turkey, she said: “My family loves and respects the Turkish people, and my father has been dedicated to serving them for over two decades.”

A photo of the Rev. Andrew Brunson during his time in prison. Photo courtesy of World Witness

Jacqueline said she was allowed to visit her father at his Izmir prison last August. “It was hard to see him so broken, so thin, so desperate,” she told the UNHRC assembly. She then read a note Brunson had written just a week ago:

“Let it be clear. I am in prison not for anything I have done wrong, but because of who I am – a Christian pastor. I desperately miss my wife and children. Yet I believe this to be true: it is an honour to suffer for Jesus Christ, as many have before me. My deepest thanks for all those around the world who are standing with and praying for me,” Brunson wrote.

Last month the European affiliate of the ACLJ representing Brunson’s case had filed a written statement to the UNHRC, declaring: “As a founding Member State of the UN, Turkey is obligated to adhere to norms set forth in the UN Charter… By detaining and imprisoning Pastor Brunson because of his religious expression, peaceful association, and assembly of religious believers, Turkey is violating not only its obligations under the UN Charter, but its own Constitution.”

As a result of former US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s talks in Ankara with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in mid-February, three consultative mechanisms were agreed upon to convene officials of the Turkish and US governments towards resolving deepening political rifts between the two NATO allies.

“I know the allegations against my father are absurd. He is not an armed terrorist trying to overthrow any government. My father is a peaceful pastor. My family loves and respects the Turkish people, and my father has been dedicated to serving them for over two decades.”

Andrew Brunson’s daughter, Jacqueline

One of the three newly established committees is focused on judicial affairs related to US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen. Erdoğan’s government has accused the Turkish cleric, who lives in Pennsylvania, of masterminding the July 2016 coup attempt, demanding that the US extradite him back to Turkey for trial. Brunson’s case, as well as that of two arrested US consular employees also accused of Gülen links, is expected to be included in these talks.

Last September, Erdoğan had publicly offered to “exchange” Brunson if the US would extradite Gülen back to Turkey, in effect holding him as a political hostage. In early January, Erdoğan specified that “as long as I hold office”, Turkey will not extradite any jailed “suspects” to the United States until Washington hands over Gülen.

In a lengthy interview published on 9 March on the Turkish-language www.diken.com.tr website, the leader of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in the US clarified that Brunson is an ordained minister under their denomination and holds membership in their North Carolina presbytery.

When asked if he believed Brunson was being held because of his Christian faith, Jeffrey Jeremiah replied: “I think he is being held because he is a Christian, and he is an American.”

As to whether he had any hope that the pastor would be freed any time soon, before Gülen would be extradited to Turkey, Jeremiah said: “I don’t see how an exchange is going to take place, because we are a nation of laws. Unless there is conclusive proof that Gülen must be extradited, then that is a non-starter.”

The Presbyterian leader said he had mailed a letter to President Erdoğan in late December, requesting him to release Brunson, but he had received no response.

Jeremiah described Brunson’s wife Norine as “a woman of incredible faith and courage who is continuing to provide leadership to their church [in Izmir], and is faithfully seeing her husband every week”.

“I am constantly praying for him,” Jeremiah added. “My constant prayer is that he does not lose hope. He has been in some deep, deep valleys that the Lord has brought him through, and he does know that he is not forgotten.”

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