Brunson: “I’m one of the most hated men in Turkey”

Andrew Brunson, the U.S. evangelical pastor released last Friday after being held for two years in Turkish prison on espionage and terror charges believes he is likely “one of the most hated men” in Turkey but still loves the country, he told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on Tuesday.

Brunson had been living and working in Turkey for over 20 years when he and his wife Norine were detained in October 2016 and told he was a “threat to national security.”

The pastor expected he would be deported, but instead he would go on to face a two-year ordeal that has made global headlines with the intervention of U.S. President Donald Trump this year and the round of sanctions and other measures taken in response to Brunson’s detention.

"At this point I’m one of the most hated men in Turkey, probably," Brunson told Stephanopoulos, referring to his alleged links to two organisations defined as terrorist groups by the Turkish government.

The pastor was accused of working with both the Gülen religious movement accused of plotting the failed coup attempt in July 2016 and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has been in armed conflict with Turkish security forces for decades.

Brunson has denied the charges, insisting from the beginning that in Turkey his only purpose had been to “tell people about Jesus Christ.” The Turkish court, however, found him guilty and sentenced him last Friday to three-years one-month in prison, releasing him due to time already served.

In spite of the sentence, many international observers see the detention of Brunson, one of many foreign nationals held in the country in recent years, as Turkey’s attempt at using “hostage diplomacy” to gain leverage over foreign states.

“People have certainly written that. President Trump and Senator Lindsey Graham have told me that,” Brunson said during another televised appearance on CBS news. “I just got the view from the cell.”

The pastor described his time in jail as difficult, telling the reporters at CBS that he had been held at some points in solitary confinement, and at others as one of more than 20 people held in a cell designed for eight.

“There was very little contact with the outside. So, I could see Norine for 35 minutes a week, through glass, using a phone,” said Brunson, going on to describe his wife as his source of strength “that would keep me going for the next week.”

Brunson told CBS he had not been subjected to beatings, but that he had to contend with the mental hardship of not being told why he was being held for over a year.

“The problem was that I wasn’t interrogated, so for the first 18 months I didn’t know why I was in prison,” he said.

Despite the hardships, Andrew and Norine Brunson spoke during both interviews of their enduring love for Turkey, a country they spent over 20 years in and where their children grew up.