July 20, 2018
Trump, Erdogan Talk Turkey

Trump, Erdogan Talk Turkey

If Turkey wants to improve its relationship with America, here's an idea: stop taking our citizens hostage! President Trump delivered that message personally in a call with the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then followed it up with a scathing tweet on social media after Turkish officials refused to release Pastor Andrew Brunson: "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," Mr. Trump said. "@RT_Erdogan should do something to free this wonderful Christian husband & father. He has done nothing wrong, and his family needs him!"

The entire Brunson family, who's waited for Andrew's return for more than two years, thought this might be the week that they'd be reunited. Those hopes were dashed, my colleague at the U.S. Commission on International Religion Freedom (USCIRF) explains in a new op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, after a two-hour trial that sent Pastor Brunson back to prison until October 12. "Since the indictment," Kristina Arriaga writes, "the government has held three hearings -- each more bizarre than the last. Most of the evidence is based on secret testimony obtained by the government. Wednesday's hearing in Izmir, which I attended, proved as preposterous as the others." This time, she explains:

"The judges allowed a single witness for the defense to speak. This was a "concession," as they had previously said only prosecution witnesses could testify. The judges aided the prosecution witnesses' recollections by reminding them of their written testimony. When a judge asked one of the witnesses about the names of people involved in activities against Turkey, the witness replied that while he didn't remember now, he might remember later. The judge accepted this reply."

Faced with growing pressure from the White House, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and several members of Congress, Turkey has tried to defend itself from the outrage claiming that this is all part of the "legal process." But, Arriaga, that's simply not true. Instead, she argues, this is part of a widespread crack down on religious liberty -- one that Pompeo refuses to take sitting down.

"Pastor Brunson's case is very much a focus of the team that I lead here at the State Department and we're optimistic in the days and weeks ahead, we'll get a good outcome for Pastor Brunson, his family and frankly for many of those that are held in places around the world," he told CBN. It will almost certainly be a topic at next week's Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, the first-ever of any U.S. State Department.

For now, the drumbeat continues. As I told Fox News's Todd Starnes yesterday, when such a fundamental freedom, such as freedom of religion, is trampled on, you're deceived if you think that you could do business with Turkey with some level of confidence. I'm hopeful that well see a resolution soon and Pastor Brunson will be released. Until then, keep praying!