WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week, U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) took to the Senate floor to speak on North Carolina native Andrew Brunson, who has been wrongfully imprisoned by the Turkish Government since October 7, 2016. Last month, Pastor Brunson was indicted on bogus charges related to terrorism and espionage, and faces up to 35 years in prison. Senator Tillis has visited Pastor Brunson in Turkey twice, including attending his trial on April 16th. Tillis recently led a bipartisan letter signed by 66 Senators to President Erdogan calling for his release.
Click HERE to watch Senator Tillis’ speech.
‘We Will Take Other Steps if That’s What’s Necessary’: Fired Up Senator Demands Pastor Brunson’s Release, Christian Broadcast Network, April 25
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) is back from Turkey and more upset than ever that American Pastor Andrew Brunson still remains in prison in the country.
“I’m convinced that this is a risk to every single American,” Tillis said on the Senate floor. “Pastor Brunson needs to know that he has the backing of the US Senate.”
In the past few weeks, Tillis has quickly found over 60 senators and counting to sign a letter to the Turkish administration calling for Brunson’s release.
“I want to send a very clear message that we’re educating the members of the Senate and we have the votes necessary to move forward with things that I prefer not to do,” threatened Tillis. “We will take other steps, if that’s what’s necessary, to get the attention of the Turkish administration and President Erdoğan to do the right thing.”
Tillis traveled to Turkey last week to sit in the courtroom during Brunson’s hearing alongside US Ambassador for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback. He was appalled by the injustice he witnessed and warns every American is at risk of being arrested if they choose to travel to Turkey.
“I’m giving everyone a stern warning: If you’re traveling to this country, I can’t guarantee your safety based on the facts as they exist today,” said Tillis.
“I’m trying to get somebody out who’s only guilty of actually being a Christian missionary in Turkey for 20 years,” he added.
Tillis noted that during the trial the Turkish government used a conversation between Brunson and his daughter about a meal they enjoy eating together as evidence he is a terrorist. The Turkish government claims it is food that is enjoyed by the Kurds, so therefore Brunson was involved in the PKK (The Kurdistan Workers’ Party) plot to overthrow the Turkish government.
“We’re not talking about any specific charge for something violent that occurred or something damaging that occurred,” continued Tillis. “I’m telling somebody that’s traveling to Turkey, be careful what you eat and be careful what you like and don’t put it on Facebook because you, too, could find yourself in Turkish prison. That’s the level of arguments they’re using against this man that’s been in prison for 565 days. I’m not making this up.”
Tillis was able to visit with Brunson in prison for an hour and a half, which he describes as “heart-wrenching.”
“The reason it was heart-wrenching is because he said, ‘I just firmly believe people are going to forget about me,’ ” claimed Tillis.
But members of both chambers of Congress are prepared to go to bat for Brunson, and even impose sanctions on Turkey if they don’t release him.
“The Congress has his back, and this isn’t going to go away until the Turkish police release Pastor Andrew Brunson,” Tillis vowed.
President Erdoğan told the US he will release Brunson in a prisoner exchange, but Tillis calls the offer “absurd.”
“I think what’s been offered is absurd,” said Tillis. “He basically says if we’re willing to trade someone here in this country who he believes was involved in the plot, that he’ll give us back Pastor Brunson.”
“We have an extradition treaty with Turkey. If Turkey goes through the proper processes and can prove that the person he wants in this country should be extradited because he’s guilty of laws broken in Turkey, great. But to compare that pastor who’s here, or that religious leader who’s here, with a pastor who’s spent 20 years in Turkey doing nothing but missionary work I find objectionable,” the North Carolina lawmaker charged.
Tillis says Pastor Brunson is just one of several people unjustly imprisoned in Turkey that the US has to fight for.
“I warn anyone who’s going to Turkey to pay attention to what I just said,” cautioned Tillis. “Pay attention to the fact that I may not, as a US Senator… be able to guarantee your safety under the current emergency orders in Turkey.”
Brunson remains in prison until his trial resumes in May and faces 35 years if convicted.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) is warning Americans against traveling to Turkey while a pastor from Black Mountain sits in a Turkish prison.
“I come here for the first time to give a weekly speech for as long as we have somebody who is, in my opinion, improperly and unjustly being held in a Turkish prison,” Sen. Tillis began on the Senate floorWednesday.
He stood next to a sign that read “American Pastor Andrew Brunson imprisoned on false charges at Buca Prison in Ismir, Turkey: 565 Days” with the hashtag #FreePastorBrunson.
Pastor Andrew Brunson was arrested in Oct. 2016, accused of participating in a coup to overthrow the Turkish government. Until about two months ago, Brunson was never formally charged by Turkish authorities. He has practiced his ministry in the country for over 20 years.
Sen. Tillis has taken up Brunson’s cause, even traveling to Turkey twice this year to meet with the pastor.
On the Senate floor, Tillis’ passion over Brunson’s plight was tangible as he warned Americans to travel at their own risk to the country.
“I have every intention of making sure that everybody understands what’s going on with this case and why it should be a lesson to anybody who’s thinking about traveling to Turkey from the United States,” Tillis said.
Tillis said the coup Brunson is accused of being a part of actually happened while Brunson and his wife Norine were back in North Carolina visiting family.
“President [Tayyip] Erdogan, the Erdogan regime — were rounding up tens of thousands of people and putting them in prison, even somebody loosely associated with the coup,” Tillis said. “Pastor Brunson was in North Carolina at the time but he and Norine went back to Turkey in a time when people were being rounded up.”
Sen. Tillis made the case that if Brunson was really a part of the coup, he would have never returned during such a volatile time.
“Why would any reasonable person if they’d been involved with it, saw what was happening in Turkey — why on earth would they go back?”
During one of his visits to Turkey, Sen. Tillis said he spent 12 hours in a Turkish courthouse, listening to the charges against Brunson. He said the Turkish government essentially believes that Christianity is part of the PKK, a terrorist organization.
“The Turkish authorities believe any religious organization is actually part of a broader plot to undermine the Turkish government and to promote terrorist activities,” Tillis said.
Tillis said because Brunson spoke with a group of Mormons at his church, both of which provide missionary services, that Turkish authorities believe they are all part of the PKK.
“That’s why I’m giving everyone a stern warning,” Tillis said. “If you’re traveling to this country, I can’t guarantee your safety based on the facts as they exist today.”
One of the most bizarre arguments Tillis said was given for this defense was actually a conversation between Pastor Brunson and his daughter about food. He said while in court, the evidence presented against Brunson was simply a communication between Brunson and his daughter about a good meal they had. According to Tillis, Turkish authorities suggested that since communication was over a food enjoyed by the Kurds, it was a reason to suspect that they were conspirators in the PKK plot.
“So I’m telling somebody that’s traveling to Turkey: Be careful what you eat, be careful what you like and don’t put it on Facebook because you, too, could find yourself in a Turkish prison,” Tillis said.
Tillis got 66 bi-partisan senators to send a letter to encourage Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to release Pastor Brunson. Sen. Tillis said it was not a coincidence he chose to get 60-plus signatures.
“I wanted to send a very clear message that we are educating members of the Senate and we have the votes necessary to move forward with things I’d prefer not to do,” he said.
Tillis wasn’t specific, but said he’d prefer to move forward with legislation to strengthen alliances with Turkey, but that legislators would take other steps if necessary.
Tillis plans to speak on the Senate floor with new updates and facts about not just Brunson’s situation, but that of other Americans, until Brunson is released.
“I will go from someone who is a strong advocate of a Turkish alliance to someone who maybe has to think twice about where this relationship goes from here,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis took to the Senate floor today to call out the Turkish government for imprisoning a pastor originally from North Carolina.
Andrew Brunson is accused of ties to terror groups and spying in a case that has strained the relationship between Turkey and the U.S. Tillis sat in on his trial last week. He called it a kangaroo court.
“It was very clear to me after spending twelve hours in a courtroom Turkish authorities believe that any religious organization is actually part of a broader plot to undermine the Turkish government and to promote terrorist activities,” Tillis said in his floor remarks.
Brunson was arrested in December 2016 for alleged links to both outlawed Kurdish rebels and a network led by U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey blames for a failed military coup earlier that year. He faces up to 35 years in prison. Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years, rejects the accusations.
Tillis says he’ll make a weekly speech on the Senate floor as long as Brunson remains in jail.
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