President Trump is demanding that Turkey release an American pastor it has held for nearly two years after a Turkish judge ruled to keep him in detention for three more months.
His message comes as the Senate weighs bipartisan legislation that would restrict loans from international financial institutions to Turkey until it releases Andrew Brunson and other U.S. citizens, of which there are more than a dozen.
The extension of his detention is also a sign that U.S. relations with its NATO ally have not improved despite attempts by senior officials to repair the distrust and paper over the hostility.
Following an attempted coup in Turkey in 2016, Brunson, a 50-year-old evangelical pastor from North Carolina who has done missionary work in Turkey for 23 years, was arrested as part of a sweeping crackdown on political opponents of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Despite his case being raised by U.S. officials at the highest levels, including President Donald Trump, he’s now standing trial for terrorism and espionage.
Brunson faces up to 35 years in prison, and the judge ruled Wednesday that he continue to be held until October 12 — a full two years since he was first detained.
Turkey has accused Brunson of working for the Gulenist movement, a political organization led by Fetullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric in exile in the U.S. whom Erdogan has accused of fomenting the coup. Gulen has denied the charge, and Brunson has repeatedly denied any involvement with Gulen in court and did again Wednesday.
President Trump had strong words Wednesday, tweeting that it is, “A total disgrace that Turkey will not release” Brunson and saying Erdogan “should do something to free this wonderful Christian husband & father. He has done nothing wrong, and his family needs him!”
A total disgrace that Turkey will not release a respected U.S. Pastor, Andrew Brunson, from prison. He has been held hostage far too long. @RT_Erdogan should do something to free this wonderful Christian husband & father. He has done nothing wrong, and his family needs him!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 19, 2018
Trump has had warm words for the Turkish leader that many critics see as increasingly authoritarian, especially after a power-grabbing referendum in 2017 that eliminated the role of prime minister and expanded the powers of the presidency. Trump was seen at the NATO summit walking and smiling with Erdogan, reportedly even giving him a fist bump at one point and telling him he does “things the right way.”
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SOURCE: ABC News – Conor Finnegan