By BosNewsLife News Center
ISTANBUL, TURKEY (BosNewsLife)– The wife of an American pastor who has been detained for more than two months in Turkey has asked for prayers after her husband was reportedly sent to prison on terrorism related charges.
Trial observers said a Turkish judge sent Andrew Brunson to prison in the city of Izmir on Friday, 64 days after he and his wife, Norine, were arrested under Interior Ministry deportation orders as part of a wider crackdown following the recent failed coup against the Turkish government.
World Watch Monitor (WWM), the news service of advocacy group Open Doors, said the 48-year-old pastor was transferred overnight to a counter-terrorism center, before being brought before an Izmir court on December 9 for interrogation.
“Andrew is being questioned right now,” his wife Norine Brunson explained in a statement. “Please pray for [Him] to give presence, peace [and] words of vindication.” She urged Christians in their Facebook website to pray that all lies [and] false accusations…be unstuck in the name of Jesus” and for her husband “to be set free in a quick resolution”.
His supporters have linked the charges to his Christian activities. He and his wife, who led the Protestant Resurrection Church in Izmir, were detained October 7, Turkish officials confirmed. Norine Brunson was released in October and ordered to leave the country, according to Christians familiar with the situation.
On Friday, December 9, the Izmir court reportedly said that the “terrorism” charges, including being a “national security threat” came from a “secret informant”. Trial observers said the court ruled that Brunson’s case would continue to remain inaccessible to his lawyer, who had not been allowed to meet him until Friday’s hearing.
WWM cited Norine Brunson as saying that the lawyer confirmed that her husband was accused of links with the Fetullah Gulen movement, which is accused by Ankara of instigating a failed military coup against the Turkish government on July 15. The pastor is now incarcerated at Izmir’s Sakran 3 Nolu T Tipi Prison.
In a wide-ranging crackdown to identify and prosecute the suspected coup plotters and their sympathizers, with the intention to prosecute them as “terrorists”, the Turkish authorities have suspended or jailed tens of thousands of judges, prosecutors, military personnel, journalists and educators on terrorism charges over the past five months.
Brunson and his wife, who have three children now studying in the United States, have lived in Turkey for the past 23 years.
The United States State Department says that American officials are monitoring Brunson’s detention, but “privacy considerations prevent us from commenting further.”
However his arrest comes amid mounting concerns among church leaders about the plight of minority Christians in Turkey, a largely Muslim nation with an estimated 10,000 Protestant Christians.
Some 100 expatriate Protestants have reportedly been prevented from serving in Turkey over the past four years as their visas or residence permits were not extended.
The Turkish government does not allow Protestants to build churches in the country.
“Missionary activities are still considered a criminal offense in Turkey,” said Soner Tufan, a spokesperson of the Association of Protestant Churches of Turkey in published remarks.
“Our country is in a very bad situation in terms of free speech and religious liberty.”
American Christian Ryan D. Keating, who headed a church-sponsored refugee ministry in Ankara, was among those being refused re-entry into Turkey in October after he left for a short visit abroad.
At the Istanbul airport, “the officers emphasized several times that I had a lifetime ban,” said Keating, who lived in Turkey for more than a decade in comments published by the Voice of America (VOA) network.
“They told me that it was related to national security but wouldn’t elaborate, insisting that they couldn’t answer my questions,” he added.
“Since I haven’t been given any explanations about my entry ban, I can only speculate that the government has decided to deport me because of my work at the church and with refugees,” Keating said.