Erdogan’s American Hostage

Andrew Brunson’s case is part of a larger problem with Turkey.

 By The Editorial Board
 

Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan has imprisoned opponents and moved the country toward authoritarian rule. That’s the political context through which to understand the trial of American pastor Andrew Brunson.

The 50-year-old evangelical Christian appeared in court in Aliaga Monday on charges that he aided groups that tried to overthrow Mr. Erdogan’s government in a 2016 coup. The indictment reads like a series of conspiracy theories and is based on evidence from secret witnesses that would be laughed out of an American court. Mr. Brunson, who has been detained since October 2016, maintains his innocence and noted in court Monday that violence is against his religious beliefs. He could face up to 35 years in prison if convicted.

Andrew Brunson, an American pastor, in Izmir in an undated photo.
Andrew Brunson, an American pastor, in Izmir in an undated photo. PHOTO: DOGAN NEWS AGENCY VIA GETTY IMAGES

Turkey is in essence holding Mr. Brunson as an American hostage. Mr. Erdogan gave the game away last year when he suggested swapping Mr. Brunson for Fethullah Gulen, a Pennsylvania-based imam who Mr. Erdogan blames for the coup attempt. Mr. Erdogan is obsessed with Mr. Gulen and claims the U.S. is protecting him from justice. But the Turks haven’t presented credible evidence to justify Mr. Gulen’s extradition to Turkey, where he can never get a fair trial. 

President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and others have asked Mr. Erdogan for the pastor’s release. And in March the U.S. dropped charges against members of Mr. Erdogan’s security detail who beat up protestors while in Washington last year, in the hope their release would soften Mr. Erdogan’s stance. To no avail.

Perhaps the lesson is that the Trump Administration should use less carrot and more stick to get Mr. Erdogan to behave like the NATO ally Turkey is supposed to be. Senator James Lankford (R., Okla.) proposed sanctions on Ankara on these pages in February, and he repeated that threat Monday, calling Mr. Brunson’s detention “unconscionable,” which on all the available evidence it is.

Appeared in the April 17, 2018, print edition.

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