By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service
TURKEY (ANS – September 30, 2017) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has for the first time confirmed publicly that a US pastor jailed in Turkey for the past 12 months is being held by his government as a political hostage.
According to World Watch Monitor (www.worldwatchmonitor.org), in a speech at his presidential palace on Thursday, September 28, 2017, Erdoğan openly called on the United States to exchange Pastor Andrew Brunson for Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish citizen living in exile in the US since 1999, who is accused of masterminding last year’s failed coup.
“[The US] says, ‘Give us the pastor back,’” Erdoğan said. “You have one pastor [of ours] as well. The pastor we have [Brunson] is on trial. Yours [Gülen] is not — he is living in Pennsylvania. Give him to us. You can easily give him to us. You can give him right away. Then we will try him [Brunson] and give him to you.’”
But Erdoğan’s repeated demands to both the Obama and Trump administrations to extradite Gülen back to Turkey have not been successful.
World Watch Monitor says that Turkey has launched a massive internal crackdown over the past 15 months to identify and punish the FETO (Fethullah Terror Organization) network accused of infiltrating Turkey’s armed forces and government. More than 50,000 “suspected” judges, prosecutors, soldiers, academics, journalists, human rights activists and police officers have been jailed, held for months in pre-trial detention.
Since October 7, 2016, Andrew Brunson has been one of these prisoners. He remains jailed without any written indictment explaining his alleged charges or providing any evidence against him. Judicial proceedings remain stalled, and his lawyer continues to be refused access to the sealed file of accusations against him.
First detained to be deported as a “threat to national security,” Brunson had lived in Turkey for 23 years, involved in legally recognized church-related ministries. Two months after his surprise detention in the port city of Izmir, where he led the small Izmir Resurrection Church, he was formally arrested on accusations of involvement in unspecified “terrorism” activities. The presiding judge at his 9 December 2016 hearing referred verbally to allegations linking Brunson to the Gülen movement.
World Watch Monitor went on to say that vague reports then appeared in the pro-government Turkish media, reiterating claims that Brunson’s “terrorism” charges were related to his alleged membership in the Islamic cleric’s FETO network.
This past March, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim denied that Brunson was being held as a political bargaining chip to obtain Gulen’s extradition, telling a visiting USA Today reporter that such an idea was “nonsensical. These matters are separate”.
Then as recently as August 24th, Brunson was informed that even more allegations had been filed against him in an Izmir court, charging him with spying to obtain secret political and military information to “overthrow the Turkish government” and undermine the country’s constitutional order.
Erdoğan continues to insist that “more than enough” evidence has been provided to the United States for a legal basis to extradite Gülen, apparently expecting President Trump to issue an executive order to simply “trade” the controversial cleric for Brunson.
World Watch Monitor said, “But under US judicial procedures, extradition cases are decided by the federal court system, not the President or Congress. By contrast, under his new ‘state of emergency’ decree issued on August 25th, President Erdoğan now has specific authority to arrange prisoner swaps to extradite foreigners jailed in Turkey.
“The Turkish president is using this same decree to refuse to release German and other European citizens detained in Turkey in recent months on political allegations, demanding that their home countries first agree to extradite suspected Turkish FETO suspects applying for asylum abroad.”
Erdoğan had declared in an August speech that the US must choose between Gülen and Turkey. “Sooner or later the US will make a choice… Either the coup-plotting terrorist FETO, or the democratic country Turkey. The [US] has to make this choice.”
Hours after Erdoğan’s latest speech suggesting a swap of Gülen to free Brunson, spokeswoman Heather Nauert stated at a US State Department briefing, “I can’t imagine that we would go down that road.”
“We have received extradition requests for him [Gülen],” she confirmed. “I have nothing new for you on that. We continue to call for Pastor Brunson’s release… He was wrongfully imprisoned in Turkey.”
World Watch Monitor concluded by saying that US diplomatic officials last visited Brunson on September 18, 2017, in the maximum-security prison where he is being held in Izmir.
Photo captions: 1) Pastor Andrew Brunson. 2) Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently met up with his US counterpart, Donald Trump, at the 72nd United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 21st. (AFP/Brendan Smialowski). 3) Andrew Brunson had lived in Turkey for 23 years, where he led the Izmir Resurrection Church. (World Watch Monitor). 4) Dan Wooding recording his “Front Page Radio” show at KWVE.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 75, is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist, who was born in Nigeria, West Africa, of British missionary parents, Alfred and Anne Wooding, who then worked with the Sudan Interior Mission, now known as SIM. Dan now lives in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for some 54 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder/president of the ASSIST News Service (ANS), and is also the author of numerous books. He has a radio show and two television programs, all based in Southern California. Dan has received numerous awards for his journalistic work on behalf of Persecuted Christians, the most recent was in Beverly Hills, California, where at an international film festival, he was presented with a top humanitarian award by his son, Peter Wooding, before some 500 Hollywood luminaries.
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