Guest blog post by Nicolas Bauer, legal counsel, European center for law and justice
Without any reasonable justification, the trial of pastor Andrew Brunson has been delayed again, this time to 18 July, that is 21 months after the beginning of the detention. He is accused of “Christianization” associated with terrorism and became an emblematic victim of the “state of emergency” in Turkey. In reaction to this parody of justice, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are collecting signatures for an open letter to the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 74 MEPs from 8 political groups and 20 nationalities already signed this letter, to remind President Erdogan of the European Parliament resolution on the current situation of human rights in Turkey adopted in February 2018, which “urges the Turkish Government to release pastor Andrew Brunson and to allow him to return home.” At the Council of Europe, 24 other deputies also declared “urgent that Turkey respects its European commitments in putting an immediate end to this scandalous situation.” Two-thirds of the U.S. Senators have already addressed such letter to President Erdogan. The civil society is very active as well, for example the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) which gathered half a million signatures for a petition. One month before the Turkish general election, these diverse initiatives put pressure on the regime and honor the missionary work of pastor Brunson.
Accused of having participated in the failed coup of 2016, Andrew Brunson faces 35-year prison sentence. He would be acting as “an agent of unconventional warfare” under the “mask of an evangelical church pastor.” The first day of trial took place on 16 April and was based on video testimony of secret prosecution witnesses whose voices and appearances were disguised. While pastor Brunson said he has been loving Turkey and praying for the country for 25 years, the prosecutor acknowledged that he was not a member of the opposition movements and that no direct link between him and the failed coup could be proven. During the second hearing on 7 May, all seven “witnesses” – including two prisoners (one with 14 convictions) – testified that they had not personally seen or heard pastor Brunson doing anything. They reported only hearsay and conjecture, without any evidence. As for the defence witnesses, the head judge refused to hear them. The indictment and the “testimonies” show that the accusation of “Christianization” is at the heart of the charges against Andrew Brunson. Whereas one witness claimed that the pastor had a “plan” to create a Christian country, another accused him of praying for Kurdish fighters.
The presence of international observers and media has given global visibility to this trial. In particular, the Vice-Chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Sandra Jolley for whom the “11 hours of proceedings were dominated by wild conspiracies, tortured logic and secret witnesses, but no real evidence to speak of (…). This case is part of a larger decline in personal freedoms (…) that we are witnessing in Turkey in recent years.” Indeed, the charges against pastor Brunson are based on a conspiracy theory who wants the population to believe that all the political opponents plot hand in hand against Mr. Erdogan. In this regard, the indictment states that Andrew Brunson, the Gülen movement and the Kurdish fighters “misuse persons’ religious beliefs and try to create a synergy that poses a threat to their own government.” The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention recently agreed to take on the case of pastor Brunson, which is exceptional and shows its significance. It is not the first time that the case is brought before the United Nations bodies, since pastor Brunson’s daughter shared her personal testimony before the Human Rights Council on 9 March 2018.
At the European Union level, the case of pastor Brunson helped politicians to realize the violations of human rights in Turkey. According to Peter van Dalen, Dutch MEP and Co-Chair of the Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance, “It is a disgrace that this pastor is still unjustly held in jail. A disgrace that Erdogan suppresses and discriminates so much. And despite this, he would like to join the EU ? No way.”Guest contributor