- Turkey’s authoritarian president made it clear that his government his holding American pastor Andrew Brunson hostage in a Turkish prison
- President Erdogan said the U.S. government should extradite one of his political rivals living in exile in Pennsylvania if the Turkish government is to release Brunson
- Turkish authorities have presented no evidence showing that Brunson has supported terrorist causes
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s authoritarian president, made it clear once again on Saturday that his government his holding American pastor Andrew Brunson hostage in a Turkish prison.
In an interview with NTV, Erdogan said that the U.S. government should extradite one of his political rivals living in exile in Pennsylvania if the Turkish government is to release Brunson.
“The U.S. should look at the steps it has taken and comply with the extradition treaty if it wants American pastor Brunson,” Erdogan said, referring to an extradition request that the Turkish government has made for Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric living in exile in Pennsylvania.
Erdogan and the Turkish government have pressed leaders in both the Obama and Trump administrations to extradite Gulen. Erdogan claims that the cleric was the mastermind of a failed July 15, 2016 coup attempt that left more than 250 people dead. The Justice Department and State Department have said that they have not seen sufficient evidence linking Gulen to the failed coup attempt.
The comments echo those that Erdogan made in September about Brunson and Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan’s.
“The U.S. wants a pastor from us. You have a pastor of your own; you give him to us, then we return pastor to you,” he said. (RELATED: Erdogan Admits Using Jailed Pastor As Bargaining Chip Against US)
Brunson, 50, faces up to 35 years in prison based on allegations that he is a supporter of terrorist groups. Turkish prosecutors say that Brunson supported a Kurdish rebel group as well as a network of Gulen’s followers.
Turkish authorities have presented no evidence showing that Brunson has supported terrorist causes. The North Carolina native operated small Christian churches in Turkey for 23 years until his arrest in October 2016. (RELATED: State Department Official: Turkey’s Charges Against Andrew Brunson Are ‘Laughable’)
Wess Mitchell, the assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, testified to Congress earlier this week that there will be “consequences” if Brunson is not acquitted.
“The Turks claim to have a high standard of justice, the indictment suggests otherwise. The claims in the indictment were laughable. This is clearly an innocent man,” Mitchell said in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Sixty-six U.S. senators called for sanctions against Turkey if Brunson is not released. President Donald Trump also recently expressed support for Brunson, saying that he is “being persecuted in Turkey for no reason.” (RELATED: President Trump Slams Turkey’s Imprisonment Of Jailed U.S. Pastor)
During his interview on Saturday, Erdogan also called attention to a network of charter schools operated by supporters of Gulen in the U.S.
“In your own schools you pay 700-750 million dollars annually from the national budget. You are financing terrorism,” he claimed.
The Turkish government has hired several lawyers and lobbyists to lobby government officials on the charter school network. Robert Amsterdam, an international attorney, leads that effort.