President Donald Trump on Tuesday demanded from Turkey to release an American pastor who is being held as a prisoner there. In his statement, the President said that he is more a spy than the pastor is.
“Pastor Andrew Brunson, a fine gentleman and Christian leader in the United States, is on trial and being persecuted in Turkey for no reason,” Trump tweeted. “They call him a Spy, but I am more a Spy than he is. Hopefully, he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!” he added.
Brunson has been working and living in Turkey for the last 23 years as leader of the Resurrection Church.
The New York Times reported on Monday that a Turkish court rejected Brunson’s appeal to be released and ordered that he remains in jail for one more month. He has been jailed for 18 months and is now facing charges for an alleged connection to a failed coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016.
The leader of the Resurrection Church in the seaside city of Izmir stands accused of aiding the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the P.K.K., which has been waging a separatist insurgency inside Turkey for three decades.
He is also accused of having links to followers of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamist preacher who lives in Pennsylvania and who Turkey claims masterminded the coup attempt. Branson denied all the accusations.
Meanwhile, Trump, Vice President Pence and other U.S. officials have lobbied Turkish officials to release Brunson, arguing he has been wrongfully imprisoned, ABC News reported.
Although Washington has called for Brunson’s release on multiple occasion, President Erdogan said last year that his fate could be linked to that of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, meaning he wants an exchange.
Ankara has repeatedly sought extradition of Gulen from the U.S. to face charges over the coup attempt.
Brunson’s lawyer released a statement saying that the pastor was in custody because of his religious beliefs.