UN Human Rights Council to review case of jailed American pastor in Turkey

American pastor Andrew Craig Brunson and his wife Norine Lyn.

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) will consider the case of American pastor Andrew Brunson who was jailed in Turkey on trumped-up charges under the repressive regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Brunson’s case will be raised during the 35th regular session of the UNHRC at the at Palais des Nations in Geneva between June 6-23, 2017. The issue was brought to the UN attention by the European Centre for Law & Justice (ECLJ) which sent a letter on behalf of Pastor Brunson asking UN help for securing his release.

“The ECLJ urges this Council to call upon Turkey to honor its obligations. The ECLJ further requests that the UN make every effort to ensure that Pastor Brunson is not only treated with great care, but that he is quickly released and allowed to return home without injury or delay,” the letter circulated by the General Assembly on May 29, 2017.

Calling Brunson’s imprisonment as unjust, ECLJ said the Pastor Brunson committed no crime and peacefully lived out his religious beliefs in service to the people of Turkey for over two decades.

“As a founding Member State of the UN, Turkey is obligated to adhere to norms set forth in the UN Charter, such as those requiring members ‘[t]o achieve international cooperation . . . in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and . . . fundamental freedoms . . . without distinction as to [inter alia] religion.’

“Pastor Brunson’s detention appears to be related to his work as a Christian minister. By detaining and imprisoning Pastor Brunson because of his religious expression, peaceful association, and assembly of religious believers, Turkey is violating not its obligations under the UN Charter, but its own Constitution as well as Pastor Brunson’s fundamental rights: freedom of religion and belief, freedom of expression, freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. Therefore, these violations concern not only Turkey, but every Member State and every agency of the UN,” the letter explained.

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.

Both the US President Donald Trump and US Vice President Mike Pence brought up the issue of Brunson’s release during a meeting between the Turkish and American delegations on May 16, 2017. 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.

However, pro-Erdoğan media has started attacking further on Brusnon after Erdoğan-Trump meeting, accusing him of being CIA agent without any evidence.

Takvim’s editor-in-chief, Ergun Diler, who accompanied Erdoğan during his visit to Washington, accused American pastor 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.

Diler 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 that the CIA would kill him in prison if they believed that Turkey would not deport him to the US.

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. aHaber TV, Sabah daily, ATV, Yeni Asır and Daily Sabah are among other media outlets of the group.

President Erdoğan, has labeled Gülen as a terrorist and believes he was behind a failed coup attempt in July 2016, 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, 2016 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.”

Also, a bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter to Erdoğan asking for Brunson’s release.

June 1, 2017

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