In 2016, Turkish militia attempted a coup to overthrow the government and unseat Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. President Erdogan blamed Fethullah Gulen, who fled to the United States two decades ago. The United States refused to extradite Gulen for lack of evidence of his involvement. In the aftermath, President Erdogan vowed to never extradite terrorists to the United States again, including alleged “terrorist” Pastor Andrew Brunson, an American who was arrested by Turkish police in 2016 after the attempted coup for terrorism and espionage.
A 50-year-old pastor from North Carolina, Pastor Brunson has spent the last 23 years evangelizing in Turkey, where he became an essential part of his community by teaching his Christian faith to others. His Christian faith has resulted in Turkish authorities using him as a bargaining chip for the release of Gulen. Pastor Brunson is currently on house arrest and faces up to 35 years in prison if convicted.
Like he is well-known to do, President Trump made a deal. Last week, he proposed that the Israeli government release a Turkish woman and the Turkish government would release Pastor Brunson. The Turkish woman was released from Israel, but now President Erdogan denies any deal with President Trump and refuses to free Pastor Brunson.
President Trump responded strongly by placing sanctions on top Turkish government officials who are linked to Pastor Brunson’s detainment. Using innocent civilians as political bargaining chips is unacceptable. President Trump negotiated with Erdogan in good faith and Erdogan failed to keep his word. Erdogan’s actions cannot go unpunished and sanctions are an appropriate response.
Pastor Brunson has been detained by the Turkish government for nearly two years. As a nation, we must continue to condemn this unjust act. I stand behind President Trump in defending religious liberty and imposing sanctions on those responsible. Pastor Brunson deserves his right to religious freedom and must be released immediately.