A day after a Turkish court ruled to keep American Pastor Andrew Brunson in jail, U.S. President Donald J. Trump called Brunson “a fine gentleman and Christian leader,” and dismissed espionage charges against the pastor.
In a tweet on Tuesday night, President Trump expressed his disbelief over the continuing jailing of the pastor. “Pastor Andrew Brunson, a fine gentleman and Christian leader in the United States, is on trial and being persecuted in Turkey for no reason,” he said on his Twitter account.
Pastor Andrew Brunson, a fine gentleman and Christian leader in the United States, is on trial and being persecuted in Turkey for no reason. They call him a Spy, but I am more a Spy than he is. Hopefully he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 18, 2018
“They call him a Spy, but I am more a Spy than he is. Hopefully, he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!” he continued in the same tweet, mocking the official charge leveled against the pastor during the trial.
After a long pre-trial detention period, Brunson finally appeared at a court hearing on Monday in the western province of Izmir.
The case has already strained ties between two NATO allies. The pastor who faces a life sentence if convicted over charges of attempting to topple the Turkish government, involvement in a coup attempt, link to a Muslim civil society group led by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, and military espionage on behalf of a foreign country against the Turkish state.
He is also accused of abetting and aiding the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The judge ordered to keep the pastor in jail, setting the next hearing day as May 7. The U.S. appeal for the pastor’s release went unheeded.
The ruling generated a sense of resentment and disbelief in Washington.
“We have seen no credible evidence that Mr. Brunson is guilty of a crime and are convinced that he is innocent,” State Department Heather Nauert said after the court decision. “We hope that the judicial system in Turkey will resolve this case in a timely, fair and transparent manner.”
We believe that #Turkey is a state bound by the rule of law, and we have faith in the Turkish people's commitment to justice. We hope that the judicial system in Turkey will resolve his case in a timely, fair, and transparent manner.
— Heather Nauert (@statedeptspox) April 16, 2018
Senator Thom Tillis from Brunson’s home state of North Carolina was among the U.S. officials who followed the hearing. He expressed his disappointment with the ruling.
“We are very disappointed. If anything, I think the information that has been presented today creates a more compelling reason why he is innocent,” Senator Tillis told media, according to AFP.
The pastor steadfastly rejected all charges at the court.
“I want the whole truth to be revealed. I reject all the accusations in the indictment. I haven’t been involved in any illegal activity,” Brunson said during the hearing.
“I haven’t done anything against Turkey. On the contrary, I love Turkey. I have been praying for Turkey for 25 years,” AFP quoted him as saying.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence also called for the release of the pastor on Wednesday.
Spoke to Pastor Brunson’s wife this week. Assured her of our prayers & @POTUS & I are monitoring his trial in Turkey. Pastor Brunson is a good & godly man who should be reunited w/ his family, friends & congregation. It’s time the Turkish govt release him. #FreeAndrewBrunson https://t.co/1KD04rveTE
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) April 18, 2018