By Cillian Zeal
It didn’t take long for Andrew Brunson, the pastor freed from Turkish custody, to make his way to the Oval Office. And when he got there, he engaged in a viral moment of prayer with the chief executive who helped free him.
Brunson, the leader of a small Turkish church, had been in Turkish custody for 21 months on a charge of “Christianization” in the wake of a failed 2016 coup. According to Fox News, the 50-year-old pastor was charged with ties to a prohibited group and faced additional charges of terrorism and treason.
In 2017, the government of Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that Brunson could be exchanged for American-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, an opposition figure Erdogan’s government blames for the 2016 coup. That deal never gained any traction. The Turkish government’s case was based on testimony from witness Levent Kalkan. While two new witnesses were called by the government at Brunson’s trial Friday, both didn’t back up his story and one didn’t even know Brunson.
While Brunson was convicted of the charges — which carried up to 35 years in jail — he was released immediately and allowed to return to the United States. A day later, he was in the Oval Office with President Trump.
Brunson told the president that “you really fought for us, unusually so, from the time you took office.” Trump’s administration had, among other initiatives aimed at securing the pastor’s release, levied sanctions on Turkey in response to Brunson’s captivity. The sanctions affected certain Turkish officials and goods and ended up taking a major chunk out of the value of the country’s currency.