Senators Shaheen and Graham report progress on Pastor Brunson case

Lindsey Graham and Jeanne Shaheen, the two senators who visited Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to make the case for freeing imprisoned U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson, have made statements after the visit reporting “understanding” from the Turkish president.

“Any time an American is wrongfully detained anywhere by a foreign government, it is our country’s duty to do everything we can to bring him or her home. I am confident that the Turkish President understands this, and I appreciated the opportunity to raise my concerns,” Shaheen said on Jun. 30, the day after the meeting.

Brunson was taken into custody in Oct. 2016, during the aftermath of a failed coup attempt in July that year, and accused of links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an outlawed group that has sought Kurdish autonomy through armed struggle, and the Gülen movement, a religious group blamed for planning the coup attempt.

U.S. and international observers have condemned Brunson’s arrest and trial, which is said to be based on tenuous evidence. Many have accused Erdoğan of holding the pastor as a hostage to bargain for the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, the leader of the religious group accused of plotting the coup attempt, who lives in exile in the United States.

“He’s not guilty of anything in my view. We’re working very hard to get him home,” said Senator Graham on Jun. 30 in a filmed statement after visiting Brunson in prison.

“We had a great meeting with the president of Turkey. A lot of people in congress on both sides of the aisle are involved,” he continued.

“Personally, I’m optimistic that this chapter in Pastor Brunson’s life will end, and we will have a better relationship with Turkey, but that’s not going to happen until we get the Pastor Brunson situation resolved,” he said.

“The US-Turkey relationship is of strategic importance to both countries. Addressing the imprisonment of American citizens and embassy employees is critical to putting the relationship on a better, more sustainable path,” said Shaheen in her statement.