WASHINGTON — North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis on Wednesday shared more details about Turkey's case against imprisoned American Pastor Andrew Brunson and slammed prosecutors for claiming that churches in the United States are conspiring to undermine the Turkish government.
Speaking at a Capitol Hill briefing addressing the human rights situation in the NATO ally country, Tillis decried the charges against Brunson and pointed out flaws in the prosecution's case.
Tillis, a Republican, has been actively involved in advocating on behalf of Brunson, a resident of North Carolina who's spent the last two decades ministering in Turkey before he was arrested in October 2016 and slapped with trumped-up terrorism charges about 17 months later.
The Turkish government claims that Brunson is connected to the Islamic Gulen movement, which it accuses of being involved in a July 2016 coup attempt against the administration of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Brunson is also accused of being involved with the Kurdistan Workers Party. Brunson has denied all claims against him.
As the prosecution's case against Brunson has been based on the testimony of "secret witnesses," Tillis saw firsthand the prosecution's arguments against Brunson when he traveled to Izmir in April to witness the first court hearing against the pastor. A second hearing was held earlier this month in which Brunson was remanded back to prison until another hearing scheduled for July.
"What I saw in that courtroom was just absurd — the secret witnesses," Tillis said.
In his speech, Tillis mentioned briefly a document put forth by the prosecution "that says that churches in America are somehow woven together so that they can go to other countries and disrupt and overthrow governments, [and] that they are an intelligence gathering resource."
"This is serious allegations put forth by the prosecution and I don't think I'm embellishing anything," Tillis explained. "These are the facts."
While there are several accusations against Brunson, Tillis focused on and refuted claims made by an alleged secret witness who mentioned "observing a light in a room in a small church in Izmir."
Tillis blasted the prosecution's assertion that a witness seeing a light on in a church window for four hours can be used as evidence to charge someone with acts of terrorism.
"[There are] two problems with that," the senator said. "In [the U.S.], having a light on doesn't necessarily suggest you are doing something wrong. The other problem with that is that his room doesn't have a window."
Tillis added that what makes him sad about the Brunson ordeal is that it involves a NATO ally that the U.S. has had since 1952.