Bipartisan group of senators calls on Turkey to release American pastor
Tennessee Republican Bob Corker and 65 of his Senate colleagues demanded that the Turkish government release American pastor Andrew Brunson, who is imprisoned in the country while on trial for alleged connections to terrorist groups and espionage.
"The United States Government, and millions of Americans deeply concerned by the Brunson case, have been patient, in the hope that justice would be done and Pastor Brunson would be reunited with his family,” the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wrote in the letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed by the bipartisan group and released Friday.
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“The signatories of this letter have concluded that other measures will be necessary to ensure that the Government of Turkey respects the right of law-abiding citizens and employees of the United States to travel to, reside in, and work in Turkey without fear of persecution,” the letter states.
According to an NBC News report, Brunson faces up to 35 years in prison for allegedly having links to a militant group the U.S. and its NATO ally Turkey consider a terrorist organization and for allegedly communicating sensitive information during a failed July 2016 coup. Brunson has denied the charges, which the senators write are based on an "absurd collection of anonymous accusations, flights of fantasy, and random character assassination."
President Donald Trump addressed the matter on April 17, tweeting that Brunson is a "fine gentleman" who is being persecuted for no reason.
"They call him a Spy, but I am more a Spy than he is," the president wrote on Twitter. "Hopefully he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!"
Sen. Thom Tillis, who drafted the letter with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), traveled to Turkey for part of the trial and spoke with Brunson, who the North Carolina Republican said is afraid that his case will be forgotten.
“I heard that he was really concerned that maybe the American people would look at the indictment and believe it and forget him,” Tillis told the Raleigh News & Observer . “It was important for me to go over there, face-to-face visit him in prison and tell him that that’s not going to happen.”
Erdogan has reportedly floated a trade of Brunson for Fethullah Gülen, an exiled Islamic preacher living in Pennsylvania who the Turkish leader blamed for the coup attempt. Tillis called such a deal "absurd."