Senators warn “measures may be necessary” to ensure that the Government of Turkey respects the right of law-abiding American citizens to travel to, reside in, and work in Turkey without fear of persecution.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, a bipartisan group of 66 senators, led by Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), sent a letter to the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, demanding the release of wrongfully imprisoned American Pastor Andrew Brunson.

Pastor Brunson has been imprisoned in Turkey since October 7, 2016. Last month, he was indicted on bogus charges related to terrorism and espionage, and faces up to 35 years in prison. In the letter to President Erdogan, the Senators noted that the indictment “is an absurd collection of anonymous accusations, flights of fantasy, and random character assassination…It is an insult not only to an unjustly imprisoned individual, but to the traditions of Turkish jurisprudence.”  

The senators also warned that measures may be necessary “to ensure that the Government of Turkey respects the right of law-abiding citizens and employees of the United States to travel to, reside in, and work in Turkey without fear of persecution.”

Pastor Brunson’s trial began on April 16 in Izmir, Turkey, and was attended by Senator Tillis and Sam Brownback, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. The Turkish Court postponed the next hearing until May 7, ordering Pastor Brunson to remain in prison.

In addition to Senators Tillis and Shaheen, the letter was signed by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), John Boozman (R-AR), Richard Burr (R-NC), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Chris Coons (D-DE), John Cornyn (R-TX), Bob Corker (R-TN), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Steve Daines (R-MT), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Dean Heller (R-NV), John Hoeven (R-ND), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Doug Jones (D-AL), Tim Kaine (D-VA), John Kennedy (R-LA), Angus King (I-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), James Lankford (R-OK), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Bill Nelson (D-FL), David Perdue (R-GA), Rob Portman (R-OH), Jim Risch (R-ID), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ben Sasse (R-NE), Tim Scott (R-SC), Richard Shelby (R-AL), Tina Smith (D-MN), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Jon Tester (D-MT), John Thune (R-ND), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Mark Warner (D-VA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Todd Young (R-IN).

The full text of the letter is below, which can also be viewed here.

April 20, 2018

Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan

President

The Republic of Turkey

Mr. President,

It has now been over a year and a half since Turkish authorities detained Pastor Andrew Brunson, a law-abiding American citizen resident in Turkey since 1993, for alleged involvement in terrorism.  

Pastor Brunson’s detention and formal arrest followed the Turkish government’s imposition of a State of Emergency after a violent coup attempt in July 2016 rightly opposed by Turks across the political spectrum.  The United States has condemned the coup and respects the legitimate efforts of the Turkish government to ensure its perpetrators face justice and the Turkish nation is protected from any repetition of the coup attempt.  The Senate supports the ongoing efforts to strengthen law enforcement cooperation between U.S. agencies and their Turkish counterparts, including with regard to investigating alleged participants in the coup plot.

However, we are deeply disturbed that the Turkish government has gone beyond legitimate action against the coup plotters to undermine Turkey’s own rule of law and democratic traditions.  Under the State of Emergency, tens of thousands of Turkey’s own citizens as well as some citizens of the United States and other countries have been arrested, dismissed from employment or otherwise seen their lives destroyed on vague charges and dubious evidence.  These actions by the government of Turkey are inconsistent with the commitment to law and justice that have historically been hallmarks of Turkish democracy. 

That the Turkish government has consistently ignored bipartisan expressions of concern from the Congress has also been cause for concern.  Nonetheless, we chose to respect the working of the Turkish judicial system and await a just outcome. 

On March 13th, 2018 Turkish authorities issued an indictment alleging and purportedly detailing Pastor Brunson’s offenses.  It is an absurd collection of anonymous accusations, flights of fantasy, and random character assassination.  It is an insult not only to an unjustly imprisoned individual, but to the traditions of Turkish jurisprudence.  That a Turkish court could accept such a document as the basis for prosecution removes any shred of doubt that Andrew Brunson, like other American citizens as well as Turkish employees of the U.S. Government detained under the State of Emergency, is being used as a political pawn by elements of the Turkish government bent on destroying the longstanding partnership between two great nations.  Moreover, the suggestion in the indictment that the actions of Pastor Brunson to explain his religious convictions to others was somehow meant to undermine the Turkish state brings a new and deeply disturbing dimension to the case.  It should trouble all Turks justly proud of Turkey’s centuries-old tradition of welcoming believers of all faiths.

The United States Government, and millions of Americans deeply concerned by the Brunson case, have been patient, in the hope that justice would be done and Pastor Brunson would be reunited with his family.  The signatories of this letter have concluded that other measures will be necessary to ensure that the Government of Turkey respects the right of law-abiding citizens and employees of the United States to travel to, reside in, and work in Turkey without fear of persecution.

Sincerely,

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