Pastor Andrew Brunson, who was incarcerated in a Turkish prison, has finally been released. In 2016, the Turkish government arrested the pastor on suspicion of working with rebels who attempted to unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by force.
Now, after experiencing tremendous economic pressure from the Trump administration, Turkey has decided to free the beleaguered pastor, who had lived in the country for 20 years before his imprisonment. Brunson will arrive home in the U.S.A. shortly.
Pastor Brunson Released
Pastor Brunson was originally from North Carolina, but in the mid-1990s he moved to Turkey as a missionary with his wife and three children. He founded Resurrection Church, where he served until his arrest.
After being detained by Turkish authorities, Brunson was charged with espionage and sentenced to 35 years in prison. He was one of the thousands of individuals who Turkey imprisoned in connection with the 2016 coup attempt.
Earlier this year, President Donald Trump called on Turkey to release the pastor, calling him a “fine gentleman and Christian leader.” He stated that Brunson was being “persecuted in Turkey for no reason.” Other members of the Trump administration echoed the president’s sentiments, while Vice President Mike Pence issued a threat: Release Brunson, or “face the consequences.”
After Turkey initially declined to release the U.S. citizen, the Trump administration took action.
Trump Sends Turkey Into Crisis
In the face of Erdogan’s refusal to release Brunson, President Trump began to apply economic pressure on Ankara. He tweeted:
“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!
Trump did not just levy sanctions against Ankara, he also imposed sanctions on two of the Turkish government’s key officials. The tariffs struck a severe blow to the country and the value of its currency began to sink at a rapid rate – earlier this year, it decreased by 7%. Turkey’s government protested the move, and President Erdogan attempted to convince his citizens that their economy was still healthy.
Eventually, the Turkish government offered to release Pastor Brunson in exchange for the United States halting its investigation into Halkbank, a financial institution owned by the Turkish government that is suspected of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. President Trump rejected the offer, stating that he wouldn’t consider any concessions until Brunson was released. “A real NATO ally wouldn’t have arrested Brunson in the first place,” a White House official stated.
Trump’s Efforts Pay Off
President Trump and Erdogan became engaged in a standoff earlier this year. It was a diplomatic game of chicken, but the Turkish leader blinked first.
There is no doubt that Trump’s economic offense played a crucial part in getting Erdogan to relent. However, this concession comes in the aftermath of a recent controversy involving Saudi Arabia, one of Turkey’s enemies.
A Saudi journalist is believed to have been murdered at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey by operatives working for Riyadh. Jamal Khashoggi, a contributor to The Washington Post and a harsh critic of his government, went missing after he entered the consulate to obtain documentation certifying that he had divorced his wife. He never left, and Turkey’s government has provided evidence that Riyadh assassinated the journalist.
It is possible that the Turkish government is seeking to enlist the United States’ assistance in resolving their issues with Saudi Arabia. Perhaps they wish for the U.S. to take punitive actions against Riyadh, which is currently fighting a proxy war in Yemen against Iran, an ally of Turkey.
Either way, this is a significant victory for President Trump and more importantly, for Pastor Andrew Brunson, who is finally able to walk free and return home.