By Janet Ekstract July 27, 2018
ISTANBUL- U.S. President Donald Trump is threatening “large sanctions” on Turkey he said, if Pastor Andrew Brunson who was initially arrested in 2016 – is not released immediately. Brunson came under scrutiny by the Turkish government as a possible FETO suspect during the July 2016 coup when a large number of academics, journalists and Christian minorities were rounded up in the coup crackdown. Brunson who was released from prison on house arrest in Izmir tt July 25, just two days ago, has been ordered to wear an electronic monitoring device.
American born Pastor Brunson from North Carolina, who has lived in Turkey for more than 25 years and speaks fluent Turkish, has always maintained his innocence in the wake of his subsequent arrest and previous incarceration. Meanwhile, Mevlut Cavusoglu,Turkey’s foreign minister had some very harsh words for Trump in his reply to the president’s threats stating that “No one dictates Turkey. We will never tolerate threats from everyone.” Cavusoglu made the statement on his official Twitter account.
Though Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke about this case during their official call in mid-June – there have been no statements issued about exactly what was said during the call. In addition, Brunson is not the only individual to be targeted in the crackdown either. A number of prominent Turkish journalists as well a wide swath of academic and official state personnel were caught in the crosshairs of the coup crackdown and promptly removed from their positions or in some cases – jailed.
With regard to Pastor Brunson’s situation, he was accused of activities related to FETO and the PKK, according to news reports. The Pastor has vehemently denied alleged accusations made against him by those who have yet to be publicly identified. Brunson faces up to 35 years in prison if he is found guilty and he has called the charges “shameful and disgusting.”
President Trump and the US Senate passed a bill in June that would prohibit Turkey from purchasing F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets because of Brunson’s situation. The bill also prohibits Turkey from purchasing Russia’s S-400 air defense system. Defense lawyer Ismail Cem Halavurt said Turkish courts can keep defendants in detention while collecting evidence. That process was expected to end on July 18 when the final three prosecution witnesses are scheduled to testify. Halavurt added that “We have been saying that he must be released and the law since day one.”
Prior to the hearing US Charge d’affaires in Turkey, Philip Kosnett, told reporters that Brunson’s case is a crucial one for the US and could very well affect long-term relations between the two nations. As Kosnett emphasized, “The sooner Andrew Brunson can be reunited with his family the sooner we can start focus in on other issues in the relationship.”
Brunson was previously pastor of the Izmir Resurrection Church, a small Protestant congregation . The pastor’s trial is one of several legal cases that have increased tensions between Washington and Ankara. A U.S. judge in May of this year, sentenced a Turkish bank executive to 32 months in prison for helping Iran evade US sanctions. In addition, two locally employed US consulate staff in Turkey have been detained.
The Turkish government insists that Brunson’s case will be determined by the courts.
Meanwhile, the back and forth on the Brunson case appears to be an example of political posturing on the part of both the US and Turkey since both countries have their own specific agendas at stake.