What Is Andrew Brunson Accused Of? Donald Trump Calls for Release of Pastor Imprisoned in Turkey

President Donald Trump lashed out at NATO ally Turkey on Wednesday evening after a Turkish court rejected the request to release Andrew Brunson, an American pastor who is imprisoned in the country on terrorism charges.

“A total disgrace that Turkey will not release a respected U.S. Pastor, Andrew Brunson, from prison. He has been held hostage far too long. @RT_Erdogan should do something to free this wonderful Christian husband & father. He has done nothing wrong, and his family needs him!” Trump tweeted following the court decision.

Brunson is a 50-year-old evangelical Presbyterian missionary who was arrested in Turkey in 2016 as the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched a crackdown against perceived enemies in the wake of a failed military coup.  The pastor had helped run a church in the city of Izmir for decades and has frequently expressed his love for the country during court testimony.

But Erdogan’s government has accused him of working for Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Islamic cleric who the strongman views as his mortal enemy. Turkey says the pastor has allegedly spied for the outlawed Kurdish political party, the PKK. He was also charged with having links to a terrorist organization in March.

Brunson has maintained his innocence throughout his imprisonment, and analysts argue that the pastor is being used as a bargaining chip while Turkey pressures the U.S. to extradite Gulen back to Turkey from his home in Pennsylvania. Anonymous witnesses, who frequently appear in Turkey’s legal system, have been used to bolster the case against Brunson. He could face 35 years in prison if he is found guilty.

Brunson’s case has become a serious point of contention between the two allies. Some U.S. politicians have called for sanctions against Turkey if Brunson is not released. Christian advocacy groups have also called on the administration to secure the pastor’s freedom.

“With the news of his continued imprisonment breaking today, Save The Persecuted Christians calls on President Trump, the administration and our legislators to step it up and do everything in their power to bring home American pastor Andrew Brunson jailed in Turkey as a political pawn on false charges of conspiracy,” Dede Laugesen, a member of the Save the Persecuted Christians Coalition, said in a statement.

Trump and Erdogan appeared to be getting along during a recent NATO summit, with some reports claiming the president had praised the Turkish leader’s leadership ability. However, Erdogan has not responded to Trump's tweet. 

The pastor will now be held in custody until a subsequent hearing in October.