U.S. Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback said he believes the North Carolina pastor Andrew Brunson will be released from Turkey.
"This administration is deeply engaged on religious freedom," Brownback said in an exclusive interview with CBN's National Security Correspondent Erik Rosales.
"I do believe Andrew Brunson will be brought home. It doesn't make any sense what the Turkish government is doing. There is no factual basis for these charges," Brownback also said in the exclusive interview.
"The Turks are using this at a high level, and it's hurting the relationship between the United States and Turkey. The people needs to keep praying for him and the people of Turkey," said Brownback.
Brownback attended the hearing weeks ago, where Brunson, a Protestant pastor from Black Mountain, North Carolina, was barred from presenting witnesses in his defense during the hearing held by a judge in Turkey.
He faces up to 35 years in prison.
Brownback said he's seen the case against him, and "it's nothing."
In March 2018, Turkish authorities indicted Brunson, of allegedly helping to arrange a July 2016 coup that threatened Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's leadership.
The 62-page indictment also charges Brunson, who has been a Christian pastor in Turkey for the past 23 years, of committing an act of terrorism by spreading the Christian faith in the majority-Muslim country, according to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
The United States has condemned the attempted coup and supports ongoing efforts to bolster law enforcement cooperation between the United States and Turkey, including investigations around the coup, wrote Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., in an April 20 letter to Erdogan demanding Brunson's release.
President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and others have called for Brunson's release for many months.
"They call him a Spy, but I am more a Spy than he is," President Trump tweeted of Brunson in April.
The president called Brunson "a fine gentleman and Christian leader in the United States" who "is being persecuted for no reason."
Capitol Hill Lawmakers Calling for Brunson's Release
Republican Senator James Lankford, R-Okla., called on the Turkish government to "act more like North Korea" and release Brunson from prison.
Appearing on MSNBC's Morning Joe Thursday, Lankford and Shaheen talked about what Congressional leaders are doing to put pressure on the NATO ally in hopes it will release Brunson soon.
"We are working with the House Armed Services Committee, the Senate Armed Services Committee for the National Defense Authorization Act to make some very clear lines here," Senator Lankford said. "This is a NATO ally ... that we have been very close to and partnered with in the fight on terrorism. We understand they are in a very tough neighborhood—they border with Syria, they have terrorists on their border, they have a lot of issues that are there—but it is completely unacceptable what they are doing."
Lankford said another way we are looking to put pressure on Turkey is by trying to place sanctions on specific Turkish officials involved in Brunson's prosecution through a state, foreign operations and related programs spending bill.
About 65,000 people have been arrested since the government began its crackdown following the coup attempt, including hundreds of journalists.
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