U.S. pastor Brunson fears persecution of Christians could rise in Turkey

Andrew Brunson, the American pastor detained for two years in Turkey on espionage and terror charges, has told a Washington commission his fear that tolerance for Christians could be set to backslide in Turkey, the Washington Times reported.

Brunson spent decades preaching to his Evangelical Presbyterian congregation in western Turkey before he was arrested shortly after Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government survived a coup attempt in July, 2016.

The pastor was held in detention over the next two years as he was tried for allegedly aiding outlawed organisations, including the religious group accused of plotting the coup attempt.

“I think you have several experts on Turkey here today. I’m probably the only one who’s an expert on Turkish prisons”, Brunson told the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom during the hearing on June 28.

Brunson’s treatment sparked a diplomatic crisis between Turkey and the United States, which directed targeted sanctions at two cabinet ministers last August. In October, after months of pressure from Washington, Brunson was released and sent home.

Yet the charges against him are still widely reported in Turkey, and the pastor believes this type of propaganda could lead to danger for Christians in the country.

One news story, which linked Brunson to the gunman who killed 51 Muslims in mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in March, raised the pastor’s fears to a peak, Utahn newspaper Deseret News reported.

“It's when I think about the effect that it could have on Christians in Turkey, the kind of backlash that they can get, then it really upsets me”, Deseret News quoted Brunson as saying.

The pastor told the hearing last Thursday that 50 Protestant families had been banned from Turkey, and that these had been targeted for being ministers and pastors.

He added that he still loved Turkey and its people, but was critical of the AKP government, which he described as exporting a form of “radical Islam”.

“What I mean by that is, Turkey has become a supporter of a more radical Islam. I’m not saying that they’re supporting a bunch of terror groups, but they’re trying to become the leader of the Sunni Muslim world. And so they’ve taken many steps to export their version of Islam,” Brunson said.