‘I am very discouraged’ says American Pastor Marking 500 Days in Turkish Prison

“He’s obviously gone in and out of just kind of discouragement, wondering what’s going to happen, what’s the end game here,”

American pastor Andrew Brunson has been locked up in a Turkish prison for 500 days. The anniversary of Brunson’s captivity passed quietly Monday, but the American Center for Law and Justice is still aggressively working on his case.

Andrew
 On Oct. 7, 2017 Andrew Brunson and his wife, Norine, were summoned to a local police station in Izmir, Turkey. At the time, this didn’t seem like anything to be worried about. The couple, originally from North Carolina, had lived for 23 years in Turkey’s third largest city, where Andrew was the pastor of the Izmir Resurrection Church, a small protestant congregation of about 25. The Brunsons had raised three children in Turkey and had applied for permanent residency. They went willingly to the police station, thinking they were finally going to get it. Instead, Andrew and Norine were taken into custody, accused of missionary activities “against national security,” and told they would be deported. Norine was released on Oct. 9 and so far has been allowed to stay in Turkey, but more than six months later, Andrew remains locked up. On Dec. 11, he was moved to a counter-terrorism center and charged with “membership in an armed terrorist organization.” A judge ordered that he be detained rather than deported.

 

“He still remains merely a suspect of alleged crimes; no indictment has yet to be handed down,” CeCe Heil, executive counsel for the non-profit organization, told CBN News.

The ACLJ is fighting on Brunson’s behalf and reports the pastor wrote a heartfelt note to his wife through an embassy official this month.

“I am very discouraged. Please have prayer for me,” Brunson wrote. “I love you – can’t handle the thought of growing old in this place, without you.”

“I think being trapped in a Turkish prison with really no end in sight has been hard on Pastor Brunson,” Heil said. “Of course he has his faith to sustain him and the prayers of faithful believers all over the world… but as you can imagine, this 500 days in prison, he’s lost quite a bit of weight.”

“He’s obviously gone in and out of just kind of discouragement, wondering what’s going to happen, what’s the end game here,” she added.

Heil said the accusations against Brunson range from membership in an armed terrorist organization to espionage and overthrowing the government. “So very ridiculous claims against an innocent pastor,” she said.

Heil explained to CBN News that under Turkish law, Brunson can remain in prison for seven years without ever being charged. 

Testifying at the US Helsinki Commission hearing late last year, she said, “Pastor Brunson maintains his innocence and denies all the accusations.”   

Prison (1)
 Inside of a prison in Turkey

It seems that Brunson is a political hostage of Turkey. Last year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seemed to indicate that the pastor will only be released when Washington gives Turkey a Muslim cleric living in the US who is Erdogan’s rival.

“..they (the US) get up and say… ‘Give us so and so cleric,'” Erdogan said at a police academy graduation ceremony in Ankara in September, referring to Brunson.

Erdogan then brought up Pennsylvania-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, saying, “You have a cleric there. You give him to us and we’ll give you this one.”

Turkey has been seeking the extradition of Gulen, who was once Erdogan’s ally, and whose supporters have been blamed for trying to overthrow Erdogan’s government in 2016. Gulen has denied any role in the coup attempt.  Heil said Erdogan even recently talked about a swap.

“It certainly seems that Pastor Brunson has become a political pawn,” she told CBN News. “He lived 23 years in Turkey without any incident, without any problem.”

“After the failed coup attempt in July of 2016, then Pastor Brunson’s suddenly arrested as a national security threat and then remains in prison,” she continued.

“And just recently, President Erdogan has demanded a swap, basically saying a cleric for a cleric or a pastor for a pastor,” Heil said. “You have Fethullah Gulen; we have Pastor Brunson. Let’s do a swap.”

But she doesn’t believe the US will agree to the deal.

“I don’t believe that the US will ever trade prisoners; that’s not the way that we typically operate,” she told CBN News. “So I believe they’ll keep following through with Turkey, who is a NATO ally and continuing to demand his release.”

Heil said President Donald Trump has repeatedly asked for Brunson’s release. In addition, just last week, she said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Erdogan and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and again asked for the pastor to be freed   

“It seems like this meeting last week between Tillerson, Erdogan and Cavusoglu, it seems like they came out of that meeting hopeful that the US-Turkey relationship will be restored,” Heil said. “So we’re hopeful that Pastor Brunson will be part of that resolution.”

In the meantime, Heil said the most important thing people can do for Brunson is pray for him, but she also encourages taking action by signing an ACLJ petition, “Free Pastor Andrew,” which has more than 426,000 signatures so far.

“That’s very helpful because as we speak to our government as well as Turkish government and European government, it’s very helpful just to show the mass amount of people who have their eyes on this matter and are concerned about this matter and are demanding his release,” she said.

EDITORS NOTE: I wonder if Jakes, Olsteen, Dollar, Copeland, the pope and the other filthy rich “men of G-d” have signed that petition! I wonder if they even took up an offering to help support this man’s family.  I wonder if they’ve even used their resources to bring any significant attention to this matter. I wonder if they held any “night vigils,” I wonder if this man will even be thought of or mentioned during “lent,” I wonder what they would do if this were Oprah, Just wondering…….

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Pakistan Christian teen detained over ‘Koran burning’

In Pakistan, it is illegal to drink, eat or even smoke in public during Ramadan. You can be sent to jail, heavily fined, or may even be beaten by vigilantes.

Pakistani police have arrested a Christian teenager after he was allegedly caught burning pages of the Koran. It’s the latest incident in Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy-related arrests and vigilante killings.

Pakistan Blasphemie Proteste gegen Mädchenschule in Lahore (Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

Police said Sunday that Asif Massih, an 18-year-old member of the minority Christian community, was caught “red handed” desecrating the Muslim holy book, the Koran. The incident took place in the central Punjab province.

“On the night of August 12, police received a complaint that a Christian boy has been found burning pages of the holy Koran outside the shrine,” Asghar Ali, a police official, told the AFP news agency.

Another security official, Pervaiz Iqbal, said a crowd of 200 people had gathered outside the police station demanding that Massih be handed over to them for vigilante punishment.

“We then secretly moved the culprit to the police station in Wazirabad where he was interrogated and confessed to his crime,” Iqbal said.

A sensitive matter

Massih was charged under section 295-B of Pakistan’s penal code that makes the death sentence mandatory for insulting Islam.

Blasphemy is a highly sensitive topic in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where around 97 percent of its 180 million inhabitants are Muslim. Rights advocates have long been demanding a reform of the controversial blasphemy laws, which were introduced by the Islamic military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s.

Activists say the laws have little to do with blasphemy and are often used to settle petty disputes and personal vendettas. Religious groups oppose any change to the blasphemy law and consider it necessary for Pakistan’s Islamic identity.

In April, 23-year-old journalism student Mashal Khan was killed by a vigilante mob over allegations of blasphemy in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Mardan.

At least 65 people have been murdered by vigilante mobs over blasphemy allegations since 1990.

Living in fear

Pakistan’s Christians and other religious minorities complain of legal and social discrimination. In the past few years, many Christians and Hindus have been brutally murdered over unproven blasphemy allegations.

One of Pakistan’s most high profile blasphemy cases is that of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was found guilty of committing blasphemy while working in the fields in 2009 and was sentenced to death. In 2014, her death sentence was upheld by the Lahore High Court. Amnesty International called the verdict a “grave injustice.”

Read: Asia Bibi’s appeal against death penalty – A test case for Pakistan

In one case, a young girl between the ages of 10 to 14 years with Down syndrome, was accused in August of 2012 of burning pages upon which verses of the Koran were inscribed. Rimsha Masih was taken into police custody and only released months later, when charges were dropped. The case caused an uproar in her home town and beyond and sparked riots and violence against Christians in the region. In 2013, she and her family relocated to Canada.

In 2014, a Christian couple was beaten to death for allegedly desecrating a copy of the Koran. Their bodies were subsequently burned in a brick kiln.

State support

Pakistan’s liberal activists blame their country’s authorities for emboldening religious fanatics.

In June, a Pakistani court sentenced a man to death for committing blasphemy on Facebook.

“This vigilantism is being supported by the state as well as the judiciary. Religious clerics are fanning hatred. Even the civil society has failed to perform its duties,” Aatif Afzal, an Islamabad-based rights activist and communication strategist with a media development organization, told DW.

Government critics and secular writers in Pakistan fear religious extremists and the government alike when it comes to blasphemy allegations, which are enough to put them in prison or get vigilante mobs to lynch them.

Read: Blasphemy allegations – the new way of muzzling free speech in South Asia

The “abduction” of liberal bloggers in January – allegedly by Pakistan’s security forces – and the lynching of a secular journalism student shocked activists and the journalist community in Pakistan. There has been increased social media vigilantism, which is forcing critics of the government and military as well as human rights activists to censor their thoughts and words.

Activist Afzal says that blasphemy violence will not stop in Pakistan until the government takes firm action against vigilantism and those who wrongly accuse people of blasphemy.

“It can be a defining moment in Pakistan’s war against religious extremism. But I am afraid the political parties will not act. They are only interested in securing their vote bank,” Afzal told DW, adding that Pakistani civil society will continue to build pressure on the government to reform blasphemy laws.