USCIRF visits American pastor jailed in Turkey

A delegation from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has visited Pastor Andrew Brunson, an American minister jailed in Izmir, Turkey, over fabricated terror charges, and has demanded his immediate release.

(REUTERS / Murad Sezer)Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan gives a statement in Istanbul, Turkey, April 16, 2017.

It has been almost a year since Pastor Andrew Brunson was thrown into Kiriklar Prison in Turkey, and only his lawyer, relatives, and embassy officials from the United States have been able to visit him since. When USCIRF vice chairwomen Kristina Arriaga and Sandra Jolley visited him recently, he thanked all those who supported him and said it was important that he had not been forgotten.

"The government of Turkey has fabricated charges against Pastor Brunson, largely based on purported 'secret testimony,'" said Arriaga. "He should be released immediately."

As of now, Pastor Brunson is staying 24 hours a day inside a cell with two other individuals who were also charged with being part of the Gülen movement. He has reportedly lost more than 50 pounds due to all the stress he has experienced.

"He lives in a world of psychic and physical dislocation," Jolley remarked. "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."

Last month, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that they could set Brunson free if the U.S. handed over Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric now living in Pennsylvania. Gulen has been suspected of being the mastermind of a failed military coup last year, but Washington dismissed this idea, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Pastor Brunson has spent the last 20 years working as a pastor for Christians in Turkey. He is now facing a life in jail after he was accused last year of attempting to overthrow the government. However, he maintained that all the charges against him were false.