An American pastor has been detained in Turkey for nearly a month, accused by authorities of posing a "national security threat". Christian groups have been criticising the detention.
Andrew Brunson, a Protestant missionary who has been in Turkey for more than 20 years, is now being held at the Izmir detention facility, according to representatives of Turkey's Protestant community, VOA News reports.
Brunson and his wife Norine together led the Protestant Resurrection Church in the City of Izmir. Turkish officials confirm that the couple were detained on October 7. Norine was originally released and ordered home but is now allowed to stay until her visa expires on November 10, while Andrew is expected to be deported following his release.
Christian advocacy group Voice of the Persecuted has defended the Brunsons alongside opposition members of Turkey's Parliament and other Protestant pastors.
"At this point, the priority is to get Norine and Andrew safely out of Turkey, something entirely in keeping with the deportation order," Voice of the Persecuted said in a statement on its website.
They described the detention: "The authorities denied repeated requests from their lawyers, the US State Department, and friends to see them or communicate with them in any way. They were explicitly forbidden from having a Bible, and were not allowed to receive books or any change of clothes. Andrew's glasses and watch were taken away. They were told that their government had forgotten about them and that 'hopefully' they would be deported, suggesting that they might simply disappear and never be heard from again.
"Norine is also concerned that her husband might be transferred from the current immigration centre to a prison. Prison in that environment is entirely different from prison in the United States, and often includes people disappearing and without ever being heard from again."
Selina Dogan is a parliament member of the Republican's People's Party (CHP), Turkey's primary opposition party, who has been vocal in support of the Brunson's case. She says she has received no response from authorities upon enquiry about the detention. She has been liasing with church officials and lawyers also attempting to liberate Brunson.
Dogan said that the authorities' "acts towards the pastor are arbitrary." She added: "According to the international treaties Turkey has signed, religious liberty covers not believing in any religion as well as sharing any religion without resorting to violence or coercion."
As such, Dogan says: "The pastors do have the right to share their faith with people, and what the Turkish authorities mean when they accuse the pastors of being a threat to national security does require some explanation."
Turkey is a majority Muslim nation, home to about 10,000 Protestant Christians. The Association of Protestant Churches in Turkey (APCT) says that 100 expatriate Protestants have been prevented from working in Turkey in the past four years. A spokesperson for APCT said: "Missionary activities are still considered a criminal offense in Turkey. Our country is in a very bad situation in terms of free speech and religious liberty."
Turkey saw an attempted coup d'etat against its President Erdogan in July, and the failed revolution has also lead to a crackdown on religious freedom. American Christian Ryan Keating had been a Turkish citizen since 1993 but this year was deported as "a threat to national security," and given a lifetime ban. Many other Christian ministry workers report similar experiences.
"Unfortunately this is typical of the kind of treatment that Christians often get in Turkey," Keating told Christian Today. Christians in Turkey are feeling more threatened and unsettled after the government issued an emergency order over the weekend that makes it easier to deport expatriates.