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Vice Chair of USCIRF Fears for Brunson's Life: 'No One Will Be Able to Stop a Mob That Tries to Kill Him'


Pastor Andrew Brunson remains under house arrest in Turkey awaiting his next hearing in October. While many call the proceedings a "Kangaroo Court," the millions praying for him around the world have had no idea what's happening inside, until now.
"The court used to be like a basketball court or some sort of sports court that has been turned into a courtroom beside a very large prison," Kristina Arriaga, vice chair of the US Commission for International Religious Liberty, tells CBN News.

Arriaga described what she saw when she attended Pastor Brunson's last court hearing in Turkey.

"Way up front there are three judges on a raised dais and very low is Pastor Andrew Brunson, witnesses for the prosecution and Brunson's lawyer," she recalls. "There are over 500 chairs between him and the area where observers like me and his wife are allowed to sit." 

Seated beside Brunson's wife, Norine, Arriaga says she watched the proceedings in disbelief.

"Because Pastor Brunson cannot see very well from far away, any time he looks back towards his wife she stands up and puts her hand over her heart so he knows he's not alone," she remembers with a smile.

At this hearing, the prosecution called witnesses from the small church Pastor Brunson shepherded for more than 20 years.

"Pastor Brunson sat there while he heard former church members -- people he had probably baptized, people he had tea with, testify against him," Arriaga recalls. "And the judge turned to him around noon time and asked Andrew Brunson to speak for himself, and he said, 'My faith teaches me to forgive so I forgive those who just testified against me.' There was a chill in the room."

"I know his wife, who is graceful and extremely strong, probably found it to be a natural answer, but I was stunned and moved to tears when he said that," Arriaga told CBN News.

Christian Turks and other religious minorities are under severe pressure right now as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to go after anyone he deems a threat following a failed coup attempt against him two years ago. 

With that in mind, Arriaga suspects the Christian church members who testified against Brunson were under tremendous pressure to keep their jobs or feed their families.

"We don't know what sort of threats they were under," she says.

While many cheered the news of Pastor Brunson being transferred from prison to house arrest, Arriaga fears that puts him at risk.

"He's in a terribly dangerous situation because the Brunsons are portrayed in the Turkish press as people who are against the state of Turkey, and I have great fears there's going to be an increase of incitement of violence against them and no one will be able to stop a mob that tries to go and kill him," she warns.

Armed with sanctions and the power to withhold F-35 fighter jets Turkey wants to buy from the US, American officials from the White House to Congress continue to pressure President Erdogan to release Brunson.

His next hearing is Oct. 12.

Meanwhile, Arriaga encourages Americans to pray for Pastor Brunson's release and stay engaged with growing religious persecution around the world.

She's dedicated her career to promoting religious freedom and says she's never seen a more challenging environment.

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