Andrew Brunson, a North Carolina pastor living for over 20 years in Turkey, has spent the past 18 months in Turkish prison, accused alternately of being a follower of Fethullah Gülen and aiding the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). On Wednesday, July 18, a Turkish court extended the term of his incarceration. The decision was met with harsh criticism from President Donald Trump, tweeting that it is “a total disgrace that Turkey will not release a respected U.S. Pastor, Andrew Brunson, from prison.”
Turkish officials have not concealed linking the Brunson case to Turkey’s demands for the extradition of Gülen who they accuse of masterminding the 2016 attempted coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The U.S. has thus far resisted the calls for extradition on grounds that sufficient evidence against Gülen has yet to be presented by the Turkish government. Gülen, founder of the worldwide Hizmet or Service movement, currently resides in exile in Pennsylvania. Following the failed coup, Erdoğan has increased his executive powers and cracked down on all opposition, particularly focusing on the followers of Gülen as well as the Kurdish leadership of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Thousands have been imprisoned and many more removed from their jobs.
U.S. diplomatic efforts were increased this week in anticipation of the court decision on the Brunson case. Any hope for an imminent release of Brunson were dashed, however, on Wednesday. In the aftermath of the decision, Turkish media coverage continues to focus on the link to the impasse over Gülen.
Brunson is married with three children. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 35 years in prison.