RNC 2020: Who is pastor Andrew Brunson and why was he held captive in Turkey for two years?
'We had to get you back and I have to say, to me, President Erdogan was very good'
During the first night of the Republican National Convention, President Donald Trump held a roundtable with six former hostages and told Andrew Brunson, a pastor who was held in Turkey for two years, that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “was very good” to Trump despite the ordeal that the ex-hostage had to suffer.
“We have six incredible people who were held hostage by various countries, and I am very pleased to let everyone know that we brought back over 50 hostages from 22 different countries, we worked very hard on it,” Trump said in the segment before turning to Brunson. “We had to get you back. I have to say, to me, President Erdogan was very good. I know they had you scheduled for a long time and you were a very innocent person, and ultimately after we had a few conversations, he agreed.”
Brunson, 52, is a North Carolina native who was living in Turkey for more than two decades, along with his wife and three children, BBC reported. He worked as a pastor at the Izmir Resurrection Church and was the leader of a congregation of around two dozen. In 2016, Brunson was arrested by Turkish authorities as part of a crackdown following a failed military coup in July that year. The pastor was among thousands arrested, including journalists, activists and opponents of Erdogan. He was accused of being a spy who was allegedly involved with outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Pennsylvania-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, a man blamed for the coup by the Turkish authorities.
The charges against Brunson carried a prison sentence of 35 years. The pastor vehemently denied the charges, which his lawyers called “totally unfounded," adding that their client “was arrested due to his [Christian] faith.” Two years after his detention in Turkey, Brunson's case got Trump's attention after Vice President Mike Pence attended a three-day conference on religious freedom at the State Department, where Brunson’s daughter Jacqueline Furnari said that her father had been accused of “dividing and separating Turkey by simply spreading his Christian faith.”
Pence took to Twitter after the summit, writing, "To President Erdogan and the Turkish government, I have a message, on behalf of the President of the United States of America. Release Pastor Andrew Brunson NOW or be prepared to face the consequences. #IRFMinisterial. If Turkey does not take immediate action to free this innocent man of faith and send him home to America, the United States will impose significant sanctions on Turkey until Pastor Andrew Brunson is free. #IRFMinisterial"
To President Erdogan and the Turkish government, I have a message, on behalf of the President of the United States of America. Release Pastor Andrew Brunson NOW or be prepared to face the consequences. #IRFMinisterial— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) July 26, 2018
If Turkey does not take immediate action to free this innocent man of faith and send him home to America, the United States will impose significant sanctions on Turkey until Pastor Andrew Brunson is free. #IRFMinisterial— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) July 26, 2018
Pence's threats were backed by Trump just a week later as he imposed tariffs on imports of Turkish steel and aluminum and sanctioned two high-ranking Turkish officials. Soon after, he doubled the tariff. "I have just authorized a doubling of Tariffs on steel and aluminum with respect to Turkey as their currency, the Turkish lira, slides rapidly downward against our very strong dollar! Aluminum will now be 20% and steel 50%. Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time!" he tweeted in August 2018.
I have just authorized a doubling of Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum with respect to Turkey as their currency, the Turkish Lira, slides rapidly downward against our very strong Dollar! Aluminum will now be 20% and Steel 50%. Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 10, 2018
After the Turkish court sentenced Brunson to three years and one and a half months in prison in October 2018, ruling that he had already served enough time since he was detained and should be released from prison immediately, Trump took to Twitter to offer his prayers.
My thoughts and prayers are with Pastor Brunson, and we hope to have him safely back home soon!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 12, 2018
Despite the unusual bragging of the POTUS to secure the release of hostages for political purposes, Brunson appeared to be grateful for Trump's efforts to free him from the authoritarian regime during the RNC. He told the president he thought “if you hadn’t done that, I think I would still be in Turkey.” “I was held in Turkey for two years, and you took unprecedented steps actually to secure my release, and your administration really fought for me,” the pastor said. “I’m really grateful.”