NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Thursday, the 10th of May, 2018.
Glad to have you along for today’s episode of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. The trial of an American pastor held on charges of espionage drags on in Turkey.
For 23 years, Pastor Andrew Brunson led a small Christian church in one of Turkey’s biggest cities, Izmir, without incident. Then in October 2016, Turkish authorities arrested him. He’s been in prison ever since. He’s lost 50 pounds and is in deteriorating health as a result. Trial began April 16 for one day, and then that was stopped and trial resumed this week, and stopped again with a July 18 resume date.
Senior editor for WORLD, Mindy Belz, has been following this story and is here with an update. Mindy, what’s the context here? What’s going on beyond Brunson’s case?
MINDY BELZ, SENIOR EDITOR: Well, as you point out Mary, this case has become about much more than putting a pastor on trial for his activities in Turkey. So, what’s happened is that he’s been taken into custody under these emergency laws that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan put into effect after an attempted coup. Erdogan has imprisoned hundreds of thousands of people and Andrew Brunson is simply one of them. And I believe as the outcries against him have grown, including from the church at large not only in the United States but around the world, Erdogan has realized he has a pawn. And he has been using him to get concessions out of the United States, such as extraditing one of his chief opponents, Fatehullah Golan, who is the opposition leader who’s currently living in Pennsylvania. Really important point here is that Golan isn’t accused of any crime in the United States, so even though we have an extradition treaty, we just wouldn’t extradite someone who hasn’t done anything wrong in the United States.
And so that’s where we are. I want to point out, too, there’s a really important case going on in New York right now. A prominent Turkish banker who has been brought up on charges and is due to be sentenced in a federal district court in New York this month and this is a banker who has very close ties to Erdogan. I think that Andrew Brunson, a quiet pastor doing his pastoral work, has become a pawn in this game of trying to get this Erdogan associate out of jail.
REICHARD: So, many, many layers of complexity here in the background. Mindy, what do we know about the trial proceedings so far?
BELZ: Well, the first trial a few weeks ago went 13 hours. The trial that happened on Monday this week went for nearly 12 hours. And if it’s possible, it was even crazier than the first one. One person who was an observer there said to me, “This was the definition of a kangaroo court.” I mean, they brought in a host of witnesses, some who testified quote-unquote “in secret” with their voices altered, testified via video, that sort of thing. One of them was a disgruntled church member, someone who everyone knew had been a troublemaker. In the courtroom he admits to creating a fake Facebook page for the church on which he posted pro-terror links and images. And the judge seemed to sanction that. I mean, the guy was treated as a legitimate witness.
On the other hand, there were a number of witnesses who had been prepared for the defense and the chief judge of the three-judge panel threw out three of those witnesses, including one who is a long-time pastor, a Turkish pastor in Turkey, and said that they were quote-unquote “suspect.”
REICHARD: Well, outside of the kangaroo court, as you say, what are the efforts to free Brunson?
BELZ: Well, there have been some members of Congress have signed a letter protesting the ongoing proceedings against him. Several members of the House have brought up a bill in an effort to impose new sanctions on Turkey. I think what we want to say here, this is not North Korea. Turkey is a member of NATO. Turkey would like to be in the European Union. Turkey hosts one of our largest bases in the region. Turkey has the largest military in NATO outside of the United States. We should be taking this very seriously. And, in my opinion, doing a lot more than we appear to be doing. So they are feeling the pressure that they cannot imprison Americans and get away with it.
REICHARD: Well, finally, I wanted to ask you: You attended a prayer vigil for Brunson this week. What did you see and hear there?
BELZ: Well, I did, and it started at 2 a.m., and it was scheduled to go until 5 a.m. but it actually went longer than that, and everyone seemed to be pretty wide awake. This prayer vigil was taking place at Andrew Brunson’s home church, which is here in North Carolina. Andrew Brunson’s mother was there. She is 75 years old. Pam Brunson, at one moment as the people who were gathered there, about two dozen people were singing, she stopped and stood up and she said, “I feel as if some power has been loosed in the courtroom, let’s continue.” And what we know now happened late in the proceedings in the courtroom in Izmir is that at one point these big jumbotrons in this huge courtroom, there was a glitch, and the session kind of came to a stop and Andrew Brunson took that opportunity to stand up and turn around and look at who was there in the courtroom and he saw his pastor, Richard White, and they exchanged a greeting. They put their hands to their heart and raised their hands toward each other and Richard mouthed to him, “You are not forgotten. We are praying for you.” And he mouthed back, “Thank you, brother, for coming.” And I think it just underscores, Mary, that this is much bigger than about what we were reading about and what we see happening in the courtroom, and there’s power at work here beyond the powers that be.
REICHARD: I’ll add the prayer vigil was held in the wee hours here in the U.S. in order to coincide with the trial going on local time in Turkey. Mindy Belz is senior editor for WORLD. We appreciate this update, Mindy.
BELZ: Thank you, Mary.