24 members of Council of Europe urge Erdogan to release jailed American pastor

(YouTube/OfficialACLJ)Pastor Andrew Brunson appears in a screen capture of a video from the YouTube channel of the American Center for Law and Justice.

Twenty-four members of the Council of Europe have signed a document urging Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to release American pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been imprisoned for over a year.

Brunson, who had served as a pastor in Turkey for over 23 years, was arrested in late 2016 over his alleged links to armed terrorist organizations. In addition, the pastor has also been accused of espionage, acquiring secret political and military information, attempting to destroy constitutional order and overthrowing the Turkish parliament.

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has been campaigning "aggressively" for the release of Brunson for more than a year, and the organization has now brought the pastor's case before the Council of Europe.

Its international affiliate, the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ), has submitted a written question to the Council's Committee of Ministers, arguing that "Turkey is violating its international commitments to respect and apply human rights within its territory."

"What do you intend to do to ensure that Turkey adheres to its European commitments and obligations. And what can you do to ensure the effective enjoyment of the rights enshrined in the European Convention by Pastor Brunson?" the ECLJ asked the ministers, according to World Net Daily.

Twenty-four members of the council eventually agreed to sign a document explaining that Brunson has been held for more than 400 days, "without any reason, and in blatant violation of his rights."

"He has lived under inhumane conditions and lost over 50 pounds. While no evidence had ever been set forth to substantiate any crime from him, the Turkish authorities have systematically denied the multiple appeals contesting his detention," the ministers' statement read.

The written declaration denounced Erdogan for using the pastor as a "bargaining chip" with the U.S. to extradite Fethullah Gulen, who is being blamed by the Turkish government for the failed coup attempt in July 2016.

Last November, Brunson's daughter, Jacqueline Furnari, testified at the U.S. Helsinki Commission hearing, saying her father has been wrongfully imprisoned and needs to be reunited with his family.

Furnari noted that she and her husband opted for a civil ceremony and have decided to postpone their wedding because she is still waiting for her father to come home and walk her down the aisle.

CeCe Heil, executive counsel for the ACLJ, also testified that Brunson has "no idea" what crime he has committed and that he has not yet been charged with any crime at that time.

Both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have made personal requests calling for Brunson's release, but the Turkish government still refuses to free him.

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