Oct 22 2018
American Had Been Unjustly Detained in Turkey for Two Years
Prayers were answered on October 12 when American pastor Andrew Brunson was released by the Turkish government. For two years, the Christian missionary had either been jailed in a maximum security prison or placed under house arrest. Detained on false charges, he was denied due process or legal counsel. Like thousands of Americans, I was thrilled to see President Trump welcome him to the White House merely a day after he could return home.
Unfortunately, Pastor Brunson’s story is just one example of the rampant persecution that followed a failed military attempt to overthrow Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan two years ago. In the aftermath, the government conducted a widespread purge of military leaders, civil servants, and others – both Turkish citizens and foreign nationals – thought to be supportive of the coup. NASA scientist Serkan Gölge, a dual Turkish-U.S. citizen, is still imprisoned in Turkey on charges similar to those levied against Pastor Brunson, and two Turkish employees of our State Department remain jailed simply for doing their jobs to assist U.S. diplomats.
Wicker Resolution Condemns Turkey’s Religious Freedom Violations
I have followed all of these cases closely, urging President Trump to use his meetings with President Erdogan to demand justice. My role as chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission involves working at an international level to promote the rule of law and human rights. Turkey has rejected those principles with the unfounded detention of Pastor Brunson, other innocent Americans, and Turkish nationals who worked for our diplomatic mission.
Congress, the Trump Administration, and the international community should continue to put pressure on Turkey. It is unacceptable for Americans or other foreign nationals to be used as political hostages.
In June of this year, I introduced a bipartisan Senate resolution to support the efforts taken by the Trump Administration to protect religious liberty in Europe and Central Asia. The resolution names Turkey as a “Special Watch List” country because of its serious violations of religious freedom. The resolution also specifically mentions the treatment of Pastor Brunson, calling on those who are responsible for his imprisonment to be denied entry into the United States.
‘Global Magnitsky Act’ Holds Human Rights Offenders Accountable
Banning the travel of human rights violators to the United States is one of the ways the “Global Magnitsky Act” has sought to curb the abuse of human rights around the world. The law began as an effort to hold Russian officials accountable for the imprisonment and ultimate death of Sergei Magnitsky. The lawyer had uncovered a major tax corruption scheme involving Russian government officials. In 2016, the “Magnitsky Act” was expanded, allowing travel bans and economic sanctions to be placed on officials in any country for human rights offenses.
I am proud to be one of the principal authors of this landmark law, and I believe in the enduring message it sends: The United States will always stand up to injustice and attacks on human dignity. Pastor Brunson’s case illustrates the persecution that has been felt by religious minorities around the world. His release is an encouraging development, but our work is not done.