April 19 2018
On Monday, April 16, a Turkish court began the trial of ‘88 alumnus Pastor Andrew Brunson, who was charged with aiding terrorist organizations — a claim he has strongly denied. The court ordered Brunson to remain behind bars until a second trial on May 7, denying his plea to be put under house arrest during the interim period. If convicted, Brunson would face up to 35 years in prison.
The trial itself was reported to be 12 hours long, and caused Brunson emotional distress. According to an email sent from the Chaplain’s Office Tuesday morning, Norine Brunson (wife) wrote to those praying for the trial that “Andrew gave a fantastic defense that lasted several hours, the lawyer also did well, and … the ruling to continue the custody was very unfair … May the Lord overturn this unnecessary decision. I could not speak to [Brunson]. His heart is broken tonight.”
According to the New York Times, the witnesses against Brunson in the trial were anonymous, and their testimonies were presented through a video which distorted their faces and voices. The charges against Brunson have been based on “secret evidence,” digital data and anonymous witnesses throughout his imprisonment since his detainment in Oct. 2016.
“The ruling by the Turkish courts to keep Pastor Brunson in prison until his next hearing is deeply disappointing. After the questionable evidence presented at the hearing, I am more convinced than ever that Pastor Brunson has a compelling case to be released and should be exonerated,” North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis, who attended the trial in Turkey on Monday, said in a statement to the Record.
Vice-Chairwoman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Kristina Arriaga was also frustrated with the decision made by the Turkish court and the lack of progress the U.S. has made in securing his release. “The Trump administration has to think a lot more about sticks and a lot less about carrots. It is inconceivable that a NATO ally would behave in this manner and it is a travesty that yet another hearing date has been scheduled on May 7. Clearly Pastor Brunson is an innocent man that is being used as a pawn by the Turkish government,” she told the Record.
“In addition, what Andrew dreaded happened,” Norine continued, “He is to be kept at the prison where he was previously held that is overcrowded. I don’t know if they will put him in a cell with others, or keep him in solitary confinement. He broke down multiple times at this news.”
“I am deeply grieved that during the interim he reportedly will be returned to a prison where formerly he faced inhumane conditions which harm his physical health and damage his emotional well-being,” President Ryken explained.
There have been several efforts following the court’s decision to advocate for Brunson’s release and increase pressure on the Turkish government.
Oklahoma Senator James Lankford has previously suggested imposing sanctions against the Turkish government through opinion articles in the Wall Street Journal. He repeated this threat on Monday due to the trial.
Arriaga encouraged the Wheaton student body to actively advocate for Brunson’s release and call their representatives to ask if they would support Lankford’s suggested sanctions. “I would hope that the Wheaton College community would be very active in calling the White House and Congress on this matter. [Brunson] is one of us and I am certain after having met him in prison that if we were in prison he would be doing this for us. I think we owe him at least a letter or a phone call to our representatives,” she explained.
According to Ryken, “Our primary recourse now is prayer, since his situation is receiving direct attention from the highest levels of the U.S. government, from international authorities and from major media outlets worldwide. We should continue to pray not only for Andrew, but also for his suffering family and for brothers and sisters in Turkey who face opposition to their faith every day.”