The pro-Erdoğan Takvim daily on Saturday accused jailed American pastor Andrew Brunson, whose release US President Donald Trump sought from Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday, of being behind a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016 claiming that he would be the CIA chief if the coup attempt had been successful.
According to the top story on Takvim’s front page, Brunson is a “high-level CIA agent” and also a “high-level member of the Gülen movement,” which Erdoğan has labeled as a terrorist organization and which he accuses of masterminding the failed coup attempt. The arrest of the pastor has paralyzed CIA operations in Turkey, according to the article, and the US has been exerting all means to save him.
Andrew Brunson, a North Carolina native, has been in custody since Oct.7, 2016 after he and his wife were detained on immigration violation charges. At the time, the Brunsons were running a small Christian church in İzmir. They had lived in Turkey for 23 years.
Brunson’s wife, Norine, was soon released, but the pastor remained in custody and soon saw his charges upgraded to terrorism. Prosecutors have suggested in court hearings that Brunson is being held on suspicion of being a follower of Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric living in self-exile in Pennsylvania and whose views inspired the Gülen movement.
Takvim’s editor-in-chief, Ergun Diler, who accompanied Erdoğan during his visit to Washington, D.C., last week, also published a column about Brunson with the title “Rambo Pastor,” claiming that the pastor got rid of an assassination attempt in 2011 in İzmir due to his agent training.
“Brunson was a ‘deep’ name, and he was influential not only in Turkey but all over the region,” Diler wrote and claimed the CIA would kill him in prison if they believed that Turkey would not deport him to the US.
Both Trump and US Vice President Mike Pence brought up the issue of Brunson’s release during a meeting between the Turkish and American delegations last Tuesday. A statement released by the White House also said Trump asked for Brunson’s release three times and his immediate deportation to the US during the meeting with Erdoğan.
Brunson’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, who met with Trump before the Erdoğan meeting, announced that Trump promised to rescue his client from jail.
Takvim is a daily of the Turkuvaz media group, which was run by Serhat Albayrak, brother of Berat Albayrak, Turkey’s Energy Minister and the son-in law of President Erdoğan. A Haber, Sabah, ATV and Daily Sabah are among other media outlets of the group.
President Erdoğan, has labeled Gülen a terrorist and believes he was behind a failed coup attempt in July, a charge strongly denied by Gülen. There has been some speculation that the Turkish government is holding Brunson as a bargaining chip in its effort to force the US government to extradite Gülen. The Erdoğan regime has asked both the Obama and Trump administrations to deport Gülen to Turkey to face trial.
In his letter, which was given to US Embassy consular officials during a meeting with Brunson on March, the pastor calls himself a political prisoner and says that the Turkish government should face consequences for jailing him without cause.
“Will the Turkish government face no consequence for stubbornly continuing to hold an American citizen as a political prisoner?” Brunson asks in the letter, which was published by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a non-profit group helping the pastor.
Since being imprisoned on Oct. 7, the “Turkish government has produced no proof and has rebuffed numerous attempts by the American government to secure my return to the United States,” says Brunson. “In fact they are treating the US government with contempt and paying no price for it,” he said.
“I plead with my government — with the Trump Administration — to fight for me. 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.”
The ACLJ echoed Brunson’s call. “The US government must take a more active role in fighting for Pastor Andrew’s release. He has done nothing wrong. He is a US citizen wrongfully imprisoned in a foreign land because of his Christian faith. He deserves to be free,” the group said in a statement.
Also, a bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter to Erdoğan asking for Brunson’s release. The ACLJ also asked the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to help Brunson. Tillerson met with Erdoğan in Ankara, but it is not clear whether the former ExxonMobil CEO brought up Brunson’s case. (SCF with turkishminute.com) May 20, 2017