Human Rights

Daughter of US pastor held in Turkey seeking Trump's help to secure release

Andrew Brunson's family is fighting to free him

 

The daughter of American pastor Andrew Brunson, who was detained nearly six months ago and remains held in a Turkish prison without formal charges, is pleading for an audience with President Trump and asking for his help securing her father's release.

"We really, really want to get this case, my father's case, to President Trump," 19-year-old Jacqueline Brunson, a student in North Carolina, told Fox News in an interview via Skype. "We really feel it would be helpful to have the president's support and have him personally arguing for my father's case to get him back home safely to his family."

Brunson was detained in October along with his wife in the Turkish coastal town of Izmir where he has carried out his ministry for two decades. The arrests were part of Turkish authorities’ broad crackdown after the 2016 failed military coup.  

According to Republican Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford, who has worked quietly behind the scenes to secure Brunson's release, the couple was called in for a routine visa check when the ordeal began.

"Instead they were detained there at the police station, saying they may be part of a terrorist plot," Lankford said. "Then they released his wife but kept him and then later transferred Dr. Brunson to a prison facility."

In December, Lankford personally travelled to the Turkish capital Ankara and met with their department of justice. "For the first time, we learned what these charges are. They were given to me orally."

Lankford said the Turkish authorities alleged that Brunson had helped Kurdish refugees (Turkey labels the Kurds an insurgent group) and that the pastor attended a conference sponsored by Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom the Turkish government accused of instigating the 2016 coup from his Pennsylvania base.

"It seemed very odd for them to be able to pick up ... an American citizen that's been serving for more than 20 years in Turkey, and has been very engaged, very accepted by the culture and then suddenly, for him to be swept up and to be part of a terrorist investigation without any evidence, with just an accusation -- and still to this day, six months later, no charges," Lankford said.

"This is a completely false accusation, there is nothing to back this up," Jacqueline Brunson said. "In it all, he's remaining faithful. He's saying, ‘God I don't understand what is happening, I don't know how much longer this can last. I don't know what is going to happen in the end.’ What he is saying, is, ‘God I'm still choosing you to follow despite everything.’"

The Embassy of Turkey in Washington, D.C., has not responded to questions from Fox News for this report.

Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), has worked for the successful release of other Americans wrongly detained. In the Brunson case, Sekulow said they are working through the United Nations and the Trump administration. "We have heard from nearly 230,000 people demanding his release. The fact is Pastor Andrew is wrongfully being held for his Christian faith. He should be released immediately and allowed to return home to his family in America."

Lankford said it is “very clear that through the last six months of the transition of the Obama administration to the Trump administration this fell through the cracks at the State Department.”

“We are trying to keep it alive," Lankford said, adding there is a simple solution for all involved. "There is a way to be able to resolve this. If they are having concern about this United States citizen, deport them … but not just hold them indefinitely with detention."

A State Department official told Fox News the department takes seriously its obligation to assist U.S. citizens arrested abroad: “When a U.S. citizen is detained overseas, we seek to visit as soon as possible and to provide appropriate consular services. Privacy considerations prevent us from commenting further."

In February, a bipartisan letter from the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees was signed by 78 members of Congress to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan "seeking the unconditional release of American pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been unjustly detained in Turkey since October and denied regular and appropriate access to legal counsel and American consular services."

Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Brunson's home state, said through a spokesperson that he "is aware of this case and his office has been in touch with appropriate authorities."

"As frank as I can say it, one of the things the Brunson family would ask of all Americans is to be able to pray for Dr. Brunson and for Mrs. Brunson as she is there waiting," Lankford said. "They are extremely confused about what's happening. We are asking for the American government to be as involved as we can, to continue to raise this with the Turkish government, and to continue to pray for the Brunson family."

Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.

Pamela K. Browne is Senior Executive Producer at the FOX News Channel (FNC) and is Director of Long-Form Series and Specials. Her journalism has been recognized with several awards. Browne first joined FOX in 1997 to launch the news magazine “Fox Files” and later, “War Stories.”