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Turkey Refuses to Release Jailed American Pastor

01-04-2017
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Efforts to free an American pastor held in a Turkish prison for his Christian faith have failed.

Andrew Brunson was arrested on Dec. 8 and charged with "membership in an armed terrorist organization."

A Turkish court on Dec. 29 denied his appeal for release.

Brunson has spent more than two decades preaching the Gospel in Turkey and was hoping immigration authorities there would grant him and his family permanent-resident status.

But according to the American Center for Law Justice, the native of Black Mountain, North Carolina, was instead arrested for unspecified reasons.

In a statement, the ACLJ says "the charging documents do not present any evidence against him" nor did the court specify which "terror" organization Brunson supposedly joined.

Experts say Brunson's case is part of a growing climate of intolerance against Christians and other minority faiths in Turkey.

"So today, I would argue, that Turkey's Christians and Jews are going through a very difficult period," Aykan Erdemir with Foundation for the Defense of Democracies told CBN News.

Erdemir is a Muslim Turk who's trying to help Christians, Jews and other religious minorities gain full religious freedom in his country.

It was his core mission as a member of Turkey's Parliament, but he faced roadblocks. Now he advocates from Washington, D.C. working with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

"I think Christians have learned to live under constant threat of physical or symbolic violence. They're used to constant messages of hate, they're used to Turkey's culture of impunity meaning that they know that there will be very lenient sentencing to the assailants," Erdemir said

Brunson isn't alone. Turkish authorities have in recent months expelled a number of evangelical missionaries for "unauthorized" activities.

But a senior Turkish authority is pushing back, claiming his country does in fact allow people to exercise their faith freely.

"The idea that Mr. Brunson's arrest was related to his religious affiliation is ludicrous," the official told the Wall Street Journal. "There are hundreds of thousands of Christians in Turkey who freely exercise their religion," he said, adding that "It's absolutely crucial to avoid stereotypes and focus on the fact that Turkey has taken unprecedented steps in recent years to promote cultural diversity, including religious diversity."

Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, and Saeed Abedini, the American pastor released this past January after spending more than three years in an Iranian prison, are rallying for Brunson's release.

"I ask that you join me in praying specifically for Pastor Andrew's protection and release," Franklin Graham wrote in a Facebook post over the weekend.

Abedini made a similar request for prayer on his Facebook page, writing in part:

"Today I am free but there is another American Pastor called Andrew Brunson who is in prison in Turkey for two months now and I know how much heart broken is in Christmas and New Year being in prison. I experienced four of these years in prisons. We need to remember him and his family in our prayers."

The ACLJ, which is representing the Brunson family, is calling for his immediate release and said in a statement that "we are continuing our diplomatic efforts to engage the incoming U.S. administration, and moving forward with an appeal of his case."

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