The Turkish Lira fell as much as 2.3 percent as Mike Pence threatened sanctions unless Brunson is released. We break down the details on the Brunson case.
Charges in the indictment
Pastor Brunson was called to testify with his wife on October 2016 and was taken into custody. His wife, Norine Brunson, was released after 13 days. Pastor Brunson was arrested for being a member of the Gulenist movement.
The indictment on Brunson was prepared about 1.5 years after his arrest and in March 2018 it was accepted by Izmir 2nd High Criminal Court. In the indictment, Brunson was accused of committing a crime on behalf of both the Fethullah Gulen community and the PKK. Prosecutors asked for a prison sentence of up to 15 years on the grounds that he “committed a criminal offense on behalf of the organization although he is not a member” and another 20 years for “securing information for political or military espionage.”
According to the indictment published by the state-run Anatolian Agency, it was stated that Brunson had some meetings with members of the Gulen movement. Amnesty International Turkey Branch President, Taner Kilic, was among the names that he contacted. It was emphasized in the indictment that “lots of digital materials” were seized in the search at Brunson’s house. It was also claimed that Brunson was one of the organizers of the Gezi protests in 2013.
Brunson rejected the allegations at trial on August 2017. According to reports in the media, Brunson said he had “never met any Gulenist member in his life. I have never been to any of their meetings. I founded a church. I never did spying. I support Turkey’s territorial integrity. My only concern is to talk about Jesus Christ. I do not have any links with the Gulenist terrorist organization. I want an explanation on when, where and how I spied.”
The U.S.’s reaction during the first stage of the case
Brunson’s situation was on the agenda at a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May 2017. “President Trump wants the Turkish government to extradite him quickly to the United States,” the White House said in an announcement after the meeting. The United States also claimed that they had not been in contact with Brunson’s lawyers and did not know the details of the charges against him. Only then were Brunson’s lawyers and U.S. Embassy representatives allowed to meet.
Continuance of detention and sanction threats
Brunson left prison on July 25 after a court ruled he should be transferred to house arrest. After this decision, the Trump administration escalated the pressure campaign to free the pastor. “The United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being,” Trump wrote in a tweet. Shortly before, Vice President Mike Pence, a devout Christian, made a similar threat directly to Turkey’s president. “To President Erdogan and the Turkish government, I have a message on behalf of the president of the U.S.A.: release Pastor Andrew Brunson now or be prepared to face the consequences,” Pence told at a religious freedom conference.
The reaction of Turkey
One of the clearest statements about Brunson’s situation came from President Erdogan. In a speech he made in September 2017, Erdogan used expressions that reconcile Brunson’s release with Fethullah Gulen’s extradition from the United States. “There are professors that go after the man in Pennsylvania. What kind of a professor are you? They say give the priest. You also have a priest in hand. Give him to us, let us judge him, then we will give him (Brunson) back,” he said.
Statements made following the sanction threats
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on July 26 Turkey would never tolerate threats from anybody after U.S. President Donald Trump warned of “large sanctions.” “No one dictates to Turkey. We will never tolerate threats from anybody. Rule of law is for everyone; no exception,” Cavusoglu wrote on Twitter. Parliament Speaker Binali Yildirim said a day later: “We cannot be threatened. If the U.S. wants to develop its ties with Turkey, it must abandon threatening rhetoric.”
Stressed relations and the markets
The Turkish Lira fell as much as 2.3 percent as the White House confirmed an Associated Press report that U.S. Vice President Mike Pence threatened sanctions unless Brunson is released. The standoff is an unwelcome complication for Turkey at a time when the nation is grappling with financial stress that includes accelerating inflation, a widening current-account deficit and investor perceptions that the Central Bank isn’t doing enough to shore up the lira.
U.S.-Turkey relations outside the case
Fluctuating relationships in recent years have shown signs of recovery over the last few months. An agreement was reached on the presence of the YPG in Manbij. Turkey’s military began patrols outside of Manbij. On the other hand, there have been statements on the possibility of delivering Patriot air defense systems to Turkey instead of the S-400. However, after the recent developments, questions have resurfaced over these reconciliatory steps.