WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) issued the following statement on the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson:
“North Carolina native Pastor Brunson will soon return home to the United States, where he will be reunited with his family. While the Brunson family has been caught in the middle of a diplomatic and political nightmare for the last two years, their unwavering optimism and faith kept them strong during this very difficult and stressful time. Despite the anguish Pastor Brunson has had to endure locked away in prison with his fate uncertain, I was personally inspired when I watched him stand up in a Turkish courtroom during his trial – facing an effective lifetime sentence – and announce that he harbored no animosity or bitterness towards the individuals who falsely accused him. That is a testament to his incredible character and devotion to the principles of his faith, which he shared with the Turkish people for more than twenty years.
“When I first met with Pastor Brunson in a Turkish prison earlier this spring, he told me his greatest fear was that the American government would accept the indictment and forget about him. I told him we would never allow that to happen, and over the last several months, Americans from every corner of the country have prayed for his release, and leaders from both parties have worked together behind the scenes. Securing Pastor Brunson’s release was truly a bipartisan, all-hands-on-deck effort. I’m grateful for the efforts of President Trump, the State Department, and my colleagues in the Senate. We pursued a number of diplomatic and policy channels that kept the pressure on. The Turkish Government ultimately made the right decision, which will undoubtedly help improve U.S.-Turkey relations moving forward. While the outcome took longer than anyone would have liked, Pastor Brunson is finally coming back home as a free man.”
- On March 26, 2018 Senator Tillis traveled to Turkey to meet with Pastor Brunson at Buca Prison in Izmir, Turkey.
- On April 16th, Senator Tillis traveled back to Turkey to attend Pastor Brunson’s trial, where he faced up to 35 years in prison.
- Following the hearing, on April 20th, Senator Tillis led a bipartisan letter signed by 71 senators to President Erdogan calling for his release. 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.”
- On April 26th, Senators Tillis, James Lankford (R-OK) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced a bill to prevent the transfer of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft to Turkey. The bill would also block Turkey’s role as a maintenance depot for the aircraft. Under the US-led, multinational Joint Strike Fighter program, Turkey was expected to purchase more than 100 aircraft.
- On May 24th, Senators Tillis and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) announced they had secured a provision, based in-part on the legislation introduced on April 26th, in the FY 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that directs the Secretary of Defense to submit a plan to Congress to remove the Government of Turkey from participation in the F-35 program.
- On July 19th, Senator Tillis and a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill demanding Turkey end the unjust detention of U.S. citizens and rejecting international loans to Turkey until the harassment and detention of U.S. citizens comes to an end.
- On July 24th, Senator Tillis announced that the final FY 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) included a provision introduced by Senators Tillis and Shaheen that directs the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to Congress assessing the Government of Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program. The provision was a direct response to the Turkish government’s wrongful imprisonment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, and Turkey’s troubling intention to purchase the S-400 system from Russia. The provision explicitly states that Congress finds that the Turkish government is unlawfully and wrongfully detaining Andrew Brunson and Serkan Golge, and is denying them due process rights consistent with international norms. Congress overwhelmingly passed the legislation, which President Trump subsequently signed into law.
- On August 1st, the Trump Administration announced it was imposing financial sanctions on the Government of Turkey due to their detainment of Andrew Brunson.