USCIRF official shares details of meeting with American pastor jailed in Turkey for faith

The vice chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has given more information about what happened during her meeting with American pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been jailed in Turkey for more than a year now because of his faith.

(REUTERS / Osman Orsal)Turkish security officer is seen on the roof next to the polling station during a referendum in the Aegean port city of Izmir, Turkey, April 16, 2017.

During the release of the 2018 Open Doors USA World Watch List on Jan. 10, USCIRF vice chair Kristina Arriaga revealed more details on her meeting in Istanbul with Pastor Brunson together with fellow vice chair Sandra Jolley in October. She emphasized the need for the American pastor to be freed from the Turkish prison, saying he was merely "a victim of hostage diplomacy," The Christian Post relayed.

For the past 23 years, Pastor Brunson had been involved with his ministry in Turkey. However, he was taken into custody on October 2016 where "secret" charges were filed against him. The North Carolina pastor has been accused of being linked to Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is currently in the U.S. and is suspected of being the mastermind of a failed coup attempt that happened the year Brunson was arrested.

Arriaga said Brunson's appearance was far from what she saw in pictures, and she supposed that the pastor had dropped at least 50 pounds since he was jailed in Turkey. The USCIRF vice chair added that the American minister was wondering how a NATO ally country could do something like that to him and if he would be spending the rest of his life there because of the unknown charges filed against him.

In addition, Arriaga said Pastor Brunson stays with two other inmates in a cell and is only permitted to leave when his wife Norine visits once a week. He eats inside the cell, and his weekly conversations with his wife take place with a plexiglass standing between them.

"He is very comforted by the idea that we continue to advocate for him," Arriaga shared with the Post. "There should be an end in sight. President [Donald] Trump, Vice President [Mike] Pence, Senator [James] Lankford, and a number of U.S. government officials continue advocating for his release and I know they are committed to advocating until he is released. He will not be forgotten. USCIRF will make sure that we continue to highlight his case."

At the beginning of the year, Middle East Concern shared a note that Brunson's wife released. His message to her included his gratitude for people who continue to pray for him as he goes through this difficult ordeal.

However, Brunson also revealed that one of his greatest fears is that he will be forgotten in jail. Nevertheless, he was encouraged by the support and prayers that people were sending his way.