Two years after pastor Andrew Brunson was jailed in Turkey, Sen. Lankford demands his release

Republican Oklahoma Senator James Lankford once again called for the release of “unjustly” jailed U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson on Sunday, exactly two years after Turkey imprisoned the American in the months following the failed July 2016 coup attempt.

“Today is a solemn reminder that it has been two full years that a NATO-ally is unjustly holding a US citizen, Dr. Andrew Brunson,” Lankford said in a statement. “President Trump and Vice President Pence have been staunch advocates for releasing Dr. Brunson, and I urge them to impose additional sanctions and take other appropriate action if Turkey does not release Dr. Brunson immediately. Our nation prefers to work with Turkey, but we are first committed to protect the safety of Americans.”

The now high-profile religious figure was arrested and detained for 18 months before finally being charged by the Turkish government with being connected to the 2016 coup attempt, an accusation U.S. officials deemed completely bogus.

Lankford has continued to fight for the release of Brunson, who is originally from North Carolina. In July, Lankford introduced a bill along with Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., to demand Turkey end the unjust detention of U.S. citizens. The bill would reject international loans to Turkey until the harassment and detention of Americans ends. The Treasury Department issued sanctions against Turkey on August 1.

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The same group of senators also introduced a bill in April 2018 that was added as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to stop the transfer of F-35 aircraft if Turkey continues to detain Americans such as Brunson. President Trump signed the NDAA into law on August 13, 2018.

Amid mounting pressure from the U.S., Brunson was moved to house arrest in July. However, advocates have said the U.S. needs to be even tougher.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan blamed the botched coup on supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based Muslim cleric and Erdogan friend-turned-nemesis. In the aftermath of the overthrow attempt, hundreds of thousands of Turkish citizens – from public officials to journalists to students to public servants and military members and their families – have been swept up and jailed.

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The Trump team has advocated persistently for Brunson's release, leading to an intense economic showdown between the two NATO allies. In August, the U.S. slapped sanctions on an array of Turkish officials and on some goods, sending the Turkish currency into freefall.

Brunson’s lawyer on Wednesday filed an appeal to Turkey’s highest court, requesting that the pastor be released from house arrest.

He is due in court on October 12.

However, Brunson is not the only American behind bars in Turkey on questionable charges. Several Turkish-American citizens, including a NASA scientist Serkan Golge and several workers from the United States Embassy in Ankara too are languishing in prison under government accusations they were connected to the Gulen group.