Andrew Brunson is a citizen of the United States and pastor who was detained for two years and accused by the Turkish government of espionage and terrorism charges that he adamantly denies. The U.S. government and humanitarian groups sought his release.
On October 12, 2018, Turkey revealed that he was being released from house arrest and Turkish custody. The case had strained the relationship between the United States and Turkey. Brunson is a North Carolina-born pastor with a small Presbyterian church in Turkey. He was first imprisoned in Turkey in October 2016, and petitions seeking his release were signed by hundreds of thousands of people who argued he was wrongfully imprisoned.
Brunson was flown to Germany for medical evaluation and will then be returned to the U.S., according to The Hill.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Andrew Brunson Was a Long-Time Resident of Turkey Whose Home Church Is in North Carolina
Although he is a citizen of the United States, Andrew Brunson had lived in Turkey for a long time, where he presided over a small church. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom describes Brunson as an “American pastor living in Turkey for 20+ years.”
According to BBC, he is a “long-term resident in Turkey” who lived with his wife and three children in Turkey. He worked for Izmir Resurrection Church, which has only about two dozen parishioners, BBC reports.
According to the Commission, he was based at “a small evangelical Presbyterian congregation in the city of Izmir.” Its name means “Resurrection.” He was born in South Carolina. According to ACLJ, “his Home church is Christ Community Church in Montreat, N.C.” He is married to Norine Brunson.
2. Brunson Was Accused of Plotting a Coup in Turkey
Andrew Brunson was detained for two years, according to CNN. The accusation: That he tried to plot a coup against the Turkish president.
According to the U.S. Commission, “a court document released at a December 9, 2016 hearing indicated that Pastor Brunson had been charged with ‘membership in an armed terrorist organization.’ The judge reportedly mentioned allegations that Pastor Brunson is linked to the Gülen movement, which the Turkish government accuses of planning the failed July 2016 coup.”
That bloody coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan left more than 250 people dead. Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally now living in the U.S., was blamed by Turkey for instigating the coup, according to Al-Jazeera.
ACLJ reports that the Turkish government tried to use Brunson as a bargaining chip to get Gulen back to Turkey, but it didn’t work.
3. Brunson Was Arrested During What He Thought Was a Routine Meeting to Renew His Visa
Back in 2016, Brunson’s arrest came as a surprise.
According to the United States Commission, Andrew Brunson “filed an application to renew his residence visa in April 2016. On October 7, 2016, the local police department summoned him for what he assumed to be a routine meeting to discuss his visa renewal. However, he was taken into custody upon his arrival at the station and told he would be deported within 15 days.”
The Commission reports that Brunson was denied a lawyer, writing, “A lawyer who asked to visit Andrew was denied access. When the lawyer returned with an affidavit, officials told him that he signed a statement declaring that he did not want a lawyer; the document he signed waived his right to legal representation. Initially, Turkey also refused to allow a U.S. consulate representative to meet with him, a violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. During this period, members of the Pastor’s church attempted to bring food, water, and clothing to him, but were denied access until October 13. Pastor Brunson was not allowed contact with other prisoners and was held incommunicado in the Harmandali Detention Center.”
The European Centre for Law & Justice was among those advocating for Brunson’s release. “Andrew Brunson has been wrongfully imprisoned in Turkey since October 2016. He was presented three times to a Turkish judge: on April 16th, on May 7th and on July 18th, 2018,” the Centre explained in an update on the case.
“The description of Pastor Brunson as a terrorist could not be further from the truth. Indeed, he has lived peacefully in Turkey together with his wife and three children for 23 years,” the Centre wrote on its website. “Andrew Brunson was serving openly as pastor of the Izmir Resurrection Church, all without any incident with authorities. As a religious leader, Andrew Brunson specially worked to keep political activities away from himself and his church.”
4. Brunson’s Conditions in Confinement Raised Concern
Brunson was held in a cramped cell overcrowded with prisoners, the U.S. Commission reports.
“Pastor Brunson initially was held in a cell with 21 other inmates that was built to hold only eight prisoners. He was transferred in August 2017 to Kiriklar Prison where he was in a cell with two other men who have been accused of being members of the Gülen movement. He spends 24 hours a day in his cell, leaving for one hour weekly for visits. Sometimes he is allowed family visits and the U.S. Embassy sees him regularly,” its report on Andrew Brunson says.
He was first placed on house arrest in July 2018 because of concerns over his health, according to the commission. ACLJ reports that Brunson lost 50 pounds in prison. He “graduated from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL in 1991,” the site reports.
5. President Donald Trump Tweeted About the Pastor’s Release
President Donald Trump touted the pastor’s release on Twitter, writing, “Mg thoughts and prayers are with Pastor Brunson, and we hope to have him safely back home soon!”
The president also tweeted that Brunson had been released. Trump and other top U.S. officials had requested that Turkey release Andrew Brunson.