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'No Different Than... Emperor Nero': North Carolina Christian Leader Advocates for Imprisoned Pastor Brunson

Pastor Andrew Brunson

Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, is a no-nonsense lobbyist faithfully advocating for the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson who's been imprisoned in Turkey since October 2016.

Creech says Brunson's case boils down to religious liberty in the world.

"The accusation against him claims he is 'dividing and separating (Turkey), by means of Christianization,' and that his ministry is considered 'an agent of unconventional warfare' beneath the 'mask of an evangelical church pastor,'" Creech explained, according to a news release from the Christian Action League.

"This is no different than when the Emperor Nero claimed the Christians burned Rome," he continued.

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 American Center for Law and Justice, a non-profit legal organization also advocating for the release of Brunson, said the indictment "provided no evidence regarding criminal action against Pastor Brunson, but was rather replete with hearsay from secret witnesses." 

Brunson has denied all charges. He faces a 35-year prison sentence. His trial continues July 18.

"I've never done something against Turkey. I love Turkey. I've been praying for Turkey for 25 years. I want truth to come out," Brunson told the court, according to Reuters.

Creech led the effort to get the North Carolina House to pass a resolution last month and the state Senate to craft a Senatorial Statement last week, urging the government of Turkey to release Brunson, according to the news release. 

The state House unanimously approved the resolution, and 48 out of 50 members of the Senate signed the statement, the news release reported.

"It's impossible to know how much good a House Resolution and a Senatorial Statement will do – if it will have any effect at all on securing Brunson's release," Creech said. "But we have to try."

"These are official declarations from North Carolina state governing bodies insisting an innocent North Carolinian be released," he continued. "State government would have been wrong to have ignored this issue affecting one of its own citizens."

"Who knows in what way God may use these to set our Christian brother free," he said.

If Brunson remains behind bars, Creech hopes state lawmakers will take further action.

"I think absent Brunson's release, state lawmakers ought to urge the state Treasurer to review our state government's economic interests and investments in Turkey and make such recommendations as may be appropriate to the circumstances," he said. 

Brunson is a Presbyterian minister from Black Mountain, North Carolina.

According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Turkish authorities at first put him in a cell with 21 other inmates that was made for only eight prisoners. 

The commission reports he was later moved in August 2017 to Kiriklar Prison and put in a cell with two other men accused of being a part of the Gülen movement. 

Brunson is in his cell 24 hours a day and only allowed to leave for one hour weekly for visits. Sometimes Turkish authorities permit family visits, and the US Embassy visits on a regular basis, according to the commission.

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 US and Turkey.

An article in the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet Daily News suggests the Turkish government could release Brunson at his next court hearing.

The newspaper reports that "Brunson's case has been attracting enormous attention in the U.S., both politically and religiously" and has led to "a number of serious congressional interventions against Turkey, which would cause political consequences."

It adds that "Brunson, who has been in jail since late 2016, seems to be much too costly for Turkey and his continued detention would further complicate the situation."

"That is why many diplomats in Ankara expect his potential release followed by his deportation pending trial on the July 18 hearing," the Turkish newspaper also stated.

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