Trump tells evangelicals he is fighting for pastor Brunson to be released

U.S. President Donald Trump again raised the issue of Andrew Brunson, this time during an address to evangelical Christians at the White House, Turkish news website Bianet said.

Brunson, a U.S. evangelical pastor, has been held in Turkey since his arrest in 2016 and is on trial on facing charges related to espionage and terrorism. The United States has repeatedly demanded Brunson’s release, accusing Ankara of holding him and other U.S. citizens as hostages.

The Turkish government says its judicial system is independent and it cannot intervene.

“We are fighting for pastor Brunson to be released,” Bianet quoted Trump as telling the gathering of prominent evangelicals. “My administration has strongly spoken out against religious persecution around the world, including the persecution of Christians.”

“The support you’ve given me has been incredible. But I really don’t feel guilty because I have given you a lot back, just about everything I promised,” Trump said.

The often public pressure Trump has placed on Turkey to release Brunson, following the collapse of a deal he arranged with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has fuelled accusations that the U.S. president is using the issue to gain support from conservatives prior to mid-term elections in November. 

Brunson is not the only U.S. citizen Turkey holds, but Trump is less vocal about the others, whose fate is likely to be of less interest to his base.