Two delegates from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) paid a visit to American Pastor Andrew Brunson in Turkey last week, almost a year to the day when he was detained by the authorities over allegations of terrorism and espionage.
USCIRF Vice Chairwomen Sandra Jolley and Kristina Arriaga went to Kiriklar Prison in Izmir, Turkey last week to visit Brunson, who has been imprisoned since Oct. 7, 2016 over his alleged links to the U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, who is being blamed for organizing a 2016 attempt to overthrow the Turkish government.
"The government of Turkey has fabricated charges against Pastor Brunson, largely based on purported 'secret testimony.' He should be released immediately." Arriaga contended.
USCIRF reported that Brunson was initially confined to a cell that was intended to accommodate only eight men but was crowded with 21 prisoners. The pastor has since been transferred to Kiriklar Prison where he is confined 24 hours a day in a cell with two other prisoners who are also accused of being members of the Gülen movement.
Brunson has reportedly lost over 50 pounds due to the effects of the sustained stress he has endured.
"He lives in a world of psychic and physical dislocation. Despite a public veneer of a legal process, the truth is Pastor Brunson has had no due process, no true information about the charges against him, unreliable court dates, and no idea when he ever again will see his children or his country," said Jolley.
During the visit, the pastor thanked the delegates and other people who had been advocating for his release.
"I wish to thank everyone who is advocating and praying for me. Knowing that I am not forgotten is important to me," he was quoted as saying.
Brunson, a North Carolina native, has spent the last 23 years ministering in Turkey. He has been accused of delivering sermons with a "special purpose" to Kurdish congregants and attempting to overthrow the Turkish government and its constitution. He faces a lifetime in prison if he is convicted of the charges.
American Center for Law and Justice Executive Director Jordan Sekulow asserted that Brunson is being held as a "hostage of the Turkish government" and a "pawn in the hands of Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan."
Last month, the Turkish president suggested that the American pastor could be released if the U.S. government hands over Gülen, who is currently living in Pennsylvania.
The U.S. State Department, however, stated that there are no plans to extradite Gülen in exchange for Brunson. "I can't imagine that we would go down that road," said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert when asked about the possible swap.