U.S. senators tie Pastor Brunson's “hostage-taking” to Pres Erdoğan

Two United States senators went on a popular Fox TV show to discuss U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been jailed for over 18 months in Turkey and charged for allegedly aiding terrorist organisations before the failed July 2016 coup attempt.

Senators Jeanne Shaheen and James Lankford both serve on the Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen referred to the imprisonment of Brunson as "hostage taking" by the Turkish government, and directly accused the Turkish president for his role in the episode, saying, “Pastor Brunson is being held hostage and I think it goes right to the top to President Erdoğan, he’s the one responsible." 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has in previous statements tied the fate of Pastor Brunson to Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, who lives in Pennsylvania.

Gülen and his group are blamed by Erdoğan's government for the failed coup attempt in July 2016. The Ankara government has demanded that the United States government extradite Gülen, but so far the U.S. judiciary has not found that the Turkish case against the cleric meets extradition standards.

"These are totally made up charges, and they don't even connect Pastor Brunson with his church, they called him a Mormon and don't seem to know who he represents," said Shaheen, referring to the the indictment against Brunson, whose trial began on Apr. 16. 

"This is someone who has been in Turkey for 23 years, who at his trial when he was asked about the charges said 'I love Turkey, I would never do anything against the Turkish people', so this is not fair," added the New Hampshire Democrat senator. "We have to make sure that there is some heat brought on Turkey for what they are doing." 

From the Republican side of the aisle, senator James Lankford also joined Shaheen on the same program and unveiled some of the details of the sanctions being discussed at the Senate against Turkey. The Oklahoman senator said that the discussion had advised "putting sanctions directly on those individuals (responsible for imprisoning Brunson), this would be the judges, this would be the city officials. This is targeting those individuals who are actually doing the hostage taking, who are facilitating him being held."

Lankford recalled that Turkey is a long-time NATO ally and ally of the United States "who we have had a great partnership with fighting against terrorism."

However, Lankford said, "in the last three years Turkey has made a really dramatic shift from who they have been in the partnership and they’re shifting away from both Western values ideas and rule of law and all the things that have bound us together to become something we really don’t recognise."

The senator argued that it was Turkey which had moved away from its relationship with the United States, not the other way around, "So we would love to be able to restore this relationship with Turkey but we have not moved, they have moved. We would like to patch this together."

Proposed language on Turkey sanctions in defence of what U.S. congressmen called hostages was dropped from a draft $1.3 trillion federal spending bill that was released to the public last month, after the State Department's lobbying against the sanctions won the day.

Senators promised then that if no improvement was seen, the possibility of sanctions would be brought back to bear on Turkey.

Senators Lankford and Shaheen issued a statement last week saying, “Turkish officials who participate in the detainment of any innocent American citizen should face international consequences, and the actions against Pastor Brunson, in particular, qualify as hostage-taking."

“We desire cooperation and strengthening ties between our countries, but the U.S. Government has a responsibility to ensure the safety and welfare of its people,” they said.

Both Lankford and Shaheen serve on the Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs.