President Donald Trump broke new ground on Wednesday by publicly confronting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over an American pastor who Trump says is being held “hostage” in a Turkish jail.
“A total disgrace that Turkey will not release a respected U.S. Pastor, Andrew Brunson, from prison. He has been held hostage far too long,” Trump tweeted. “[Erdogan] should do something to free this wonderful Christian husband & father. He has done nothing wrong, and his family needs him!”
Trump’s tweet comes after a Turkish court refused earlier on Wednesday to release Brunson from jail, where he has been held since October 2016 on flimsy charges that he aided terrorist organizations.
Brunson, who operated Christian churches in Turkey for 23 years, has been accused of helping supporters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric who is living in exile in Pennsylvania. (RELATED: Trump: American Pastor Jailed In Turkey Is ‘Totally Innocent Man’)
Erdogan has called on the U.S. to extradite Gulen. The Turkish leader claims that Gulen, his former ally, masterminded a failed July 15, 2016 coup attempt against the Turkish government. Erdogan has led a crackdown on Turkish society, universities and the media as part of an effort to root out Gulen supporters. Tens of thousands have been arrested or fired as part of the purge.
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have reportedly worked behind the scenes to free Brunson, but Trump has so far commented very little in public about the case. (RELATED: Erdogan Again Shows He’s Holding American Pastor Hostage In Turkish Prison)
He made his most specific comments on Brunson on May 27.
“We have Pastor Brunson, a wonderful Christian pastor, and he’s right now in Turkey. He’s been there a long time. And they say he’s a spy, but he’s not a spy,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. He did not call on Erdogan to intervene in the case.
Erdogan has admitted that he is holding Brunson hostage in hopes of obtaining Gulen’s extradition.
“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 in an interview in April. (RELATED: US To Take ‘Imminent Action’ Against Turkey Over American Pastor, Says Trump’s Lawyer)
Jay Sekulow, a Trump lawyer who is also representing Brunson, said Wednesday that the U.S. government plans to take “imminent action” to secure Brunson’s release following the recent court decision.
He did not provide details of the action but did say that Trump and Erdogan have talked privately about the case within the past 36 hours.
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