WASHINGTON – After a hearing that lasted 12 hours, American Pastor Andrew Brunson is back inside a Turkish prison cell.
Using bogus charges, secret witnesses and a legal system that does the bidding of the president, Turkey has severely stacked the deck against Brunson.
Until his next hearing on May 7, the North Carolina pastor is condemned once again to the notorious prison where he began his 18-month detention – the place where he lost 50 pounds.
"He can never leave his cell, ever, not to eat, not to go to the restroom, not to get some fresh air," Kristina Arriaga, vice chairwoman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, told CBN News.
Arriaga is one of just a few people who've seen Brunson. Despite severe overcrowding, he's isolated as the only Christian and speaks limited Turkish.
"They're doing their prayers all the time so he doesn't sleep. He's anxious; he's nervous," said Cece Heil, senior counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice.
Now his Turkish attorney, who could be jailed himself, is facing a near-impossible task.
"They fabricate evidence. They have these secret witnesses that fabricate testimony and it really puts you in a poor position to provide any kind of defense," Heil said.
Aykan Erdemir, with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told CBN News, "Pastor Brunson has no opportunity of a free and fair trial in Turkey. He is already smeared and condemned in Turkey's pro-government media. He has no attorney-client privilege."
Erdemir, a former member of Turkey's parliament, said what's happening to Brunson reads like a science fiction novel.
At his trial, Brunson spent hours defending himself against the most ludicrous charges.
"A text message to him by a colleague of his who tells him, 'I'm sorry I have diarrhea. I won't be able to make it to church,' " Erdemir said. "Any self-respecting court would have refused to entertain such accusations."
Brunson's defenders say his detention has nothing to do with the bogus charges against him.
Rather, they contend he's a pawn for Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdoğan, who's holding him hostage to pressure the US into extraditing several Turkish nationals – and to settle his own paranoia following a failed coup attempt against him two years ago.
"At the center of his paranoia is his fixation with the West and what he sees as the Judeo-Christian civilization, so this is part of his crusade against the West," Erdemir explained.
Now that Turkey's court has had a chance to do the right thing, bipartisan members of Congress are pursuing sanctions against Turkish officials who they say participate in the "detainment of innocent American citizens…" since actions against Pastor Brunson and other Americans "qualify as hostage-taking."
Under Turkish law, Brunson could languish in prison for seven years before the courts take any action. If convicted, the 50-year-old father of three faces a sentence of 35 years.