U.S. President Donald Trump has urged Turkey to release American pastor Andrew Brunson, who was arrested on charges of "being part of a terrorist organization” last year, the White House stated on May 16 following the U.S. president’s first face-to-face meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
"President Trump raised the incarceration of Pastor Andrew Brunson and asked that the Turkish government expeditiously return him to the United States,” the White House said in a statement.
In December 2016, Brunson was charged with membership in the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ), the network of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen who is accused of masterminding the July 2016 failed coup attempt.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a Christian-based advocacy group campaigning for the pastor’s release, called Trump’s move "a major sign of significant progress toward bringing Pastor Andrew home.”
Jay Sekulow, the group’s chief counsel, said in a post on the ACLJ website that he received a call from the vice president’s office noting that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence raised the case of Brunson three times.
A tweet from the Vice Presidency also stated that the issue of Brunson was raised during the meeting.
"Proud to join @POTUS for discussion of issues w/ NATO ally Turkey including the plight of pastor Andrew Brunson,” the VP’s official account tweeted.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also met with Brunson’s wife, Norine Lyn, who was also detained along with her husband but released later, during his first official visit to the country in March.
Earlier, İzmir police sent a note to the couple after the Immigration Authority issued a notification on Sept. 28, 2016, for their deportation, after their religious activities were alleged to be "against national security.”