President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey recently claimed that releasing imprisoned American pastor Andrew Brunson is not within his power.
“This is a judiciary matter,” Erdogan said in an interview with Reuters at the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday. “Brunson has been detained on terrorism charges … On Oct. 12 there will be another hearing and we don’t know what the court will decide and politicians will have no say on the verdict.” Erdogan maintained that “as the president, I don’t have the right to order his release. Our judiciary is independent. Let’s wait and see what the court will decide.” (RELATED: Erdogan Admits Using Jailed American Pastor As Bargaining Chip Against US)
Andrew Brunson is a 50-year-old American citizen who has pastored a small church in the coastal city of Izmir, Turkey for over 20 years. He was among the many detained by the Turkish government in the wake of the attempted coup against Erdogan in July 2016. For almost two years, he has been imprisoned in Turkey under charges of terrorism, spying and insurgency. He denies the charges, but could face 35 years in prison if found guilty. U.S. officials expected him to be freed last July, but he was instead moved to house arrest.
Hope may yet remain for those who have been calling for Brunson’s release. According to a report by the Wall Street Journal on Sunday, a Turkish official characterized the pastor’s freedom as “a possible outcome” of his next court hearing on Oct. 12, but officials also urged the U.S. to relent on the diplomatic and economic pressures it has placed on the country. The Turkish lira has plunged 40 percent against the U.S. dollar this year, following doubled tariffs by the U.S. on Turkey’s aluminum and steel.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed optimism about the case on Monday, saying to reporters in New York, “Yes, [Brunson] could be released this month. He should have been released last month. And he should be released today, in fact. We have talked to the Turks. They know the expectations.”