JERUSALEM, Israel – American Pastor Andrew Brunson has been held on trumped-up charges by Turkish authorities since last October.
Brunson and his wife, Norine, Christian missionaries from Black Mountain, North Carolina, have lived in Turkey for 23 years.
On October 7, authorities arrested Brunson and his wife for preaching the Gospel. About two weeks later, they released his wife, but kept him in custody as a "threat to national security." He was initially told he would be deported, but instead the government confiscated his personal belongings and detained him for more than two months.
On December 8, Brunson was taken to a counter-terrorism center in the middle of the night and then to court, where a Turkish judge ordered him imprisoned.
That same month, Sen. James Lankford, R-OK, traveled to Ankara to learn more about his alleged offenses. He was told Brunson has been charged with helping Kurdish refugees and attending a conference organized by Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish preacher living in exile in Pennsylvania whom Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses of organizing a failed coup in July 2016.
"This is a completely false accusation; there is nothing to back this up," Brunson's 19-year-old daughter, Jacqueline, told Fox News in a Skype interview last month.
"In it all, he's remaining faithful. He's saying, 'God, I don't understand what is happening. I don't know how much longer this can last. I don't know what is going to happen in the end.' What he is saying is, 'God, I'm still choosing you to follow despite everything,'" she said.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Brunson's wife to discuss her husband's case.
"Will the Turkish government face no consequence for stubbornly continuing to hold an American citizen as a political prisoner," Brunson wrote. "Even though I have a long public track record as a church pastor, they falsely accuse me of being a member of an Islamist terrorist group. I have been imprisoned since October 7, 2016. During this time, the Turkish government has produced no proof and has rebuffed numerous attempts by the American government to secure my return to the United States. In fact, they are treating the U.S. government with contempt and paying no price for it.
"I plead with my government – with the Trump administration – to fight for me," Brunson continued. "I ask the State Department to impose sanctions. I appeal to President Trump: please help me. Let the Turkish government know that you will not cooperate with them in any way until they release me. Please do not leave me here in prison."
Following his "conviction" in December, the ACLJ posted his story on its website, gathering more than 240,000 signatories on a petition calling for his release.
In February, 78 U.S. congressmen co-signed a bipartisan letter from the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees to Erdogan demanding his "unconditional release" and saying he's "unjustly detained in Turkey since October and denied regular and appropriate access to legal counsel and American consular services."