United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke out this week on behalf of imprisoned American pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been behind bars in Turkey for more than 19 months.
Pompeo will be meeting in early June with the Turkish Foreign Minister who could decide to release Brunson directly to the US. He told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday that he would raise the issue of the pastor's release during that meeting.
"So I've spoken with the Turkish Foreign Minister at least once, maybe twice in my first three weeks," Pompeo said during testimony. "(There) are many topics that we've covered; certainly, in each case (we) have talked about the incredible need for them to return Pastor Brunson."
"It's just deeply wrong, immoral, unjust," he continued. "No successes so far, but you can be assured that we're working diligently on that."
The American Center for Law and Justice also continues to fight for the release of Brunson, delivering Wednesday a legal submission to the UN Human Rights Council on behalf of the North Carolina pastor.
"This insanity needs to stop. He must be brought home," said ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow in an email.
"On the 2nd day of his trial, after a grueling 11 hours of testimony by 7 "witnesses" – 6 of whom had never even met Pastor Andrew – the head Turkish judge essentially declared that he would not allow any of Pastor Andrew's witnesses to testify," Sekulow continued.
Brunson faces up to 35 years in prison; his trial has been delayed until July 18.
In March 2018, Turkish authorities indicted Brunson for allegedly helping to arrange a July 2016 coup that threatened Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's leadership.
The 62-page indictment also charges Brunson, who had served openly as a known Christian pastor in Turkey for the past 23 years, with committing an act of terrorism by spreading the Christian faith in the majority-Muslim country, according to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
In an email to CBN News, the ACLJ said the indictment "provided no evidence regarding criminal action against Pastor Brunson, but was rather replete with hearsay from secret witnesses."
U.S. Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback told CBN News that he believes Brunson will be released.
"I do believe Andrew Brunson will be brought home. It doesn't make any sense what the Turkish government is doing," he said. "There is no factual basis for these charges."
"The Turks are using this at a high level, and it's hurting the relationship between the United States and Turkey," Brownback also said.
He urged people to keep praying for Brunson and the people of Turkey.
Last year, Erdogan offered to trade Brunson for exiled Turkish leader Fetullah Gulen, who's accused of being the mastermind behind the coup.
Many see Brunson as a pawn in a high political face-off between the U.S. and Turkey. Last year, the White House announced that President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence brought up Pastor Brunson's plight three times in their meetings with the Turkish president.
"It's intolerable. They're using him as a political pawn for his Christian faith," Sekulow said. "We need maximum pressure on Turkey."
"The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention agreed to take his case," he continued. "Turkey must be forced to end this game and set Pastor Andrew free."
The ACLJ continues its petition drive to free the American pastor.