ISTANBUL, TURKEY (BosNewsLife)– Christians have expressed concern about the plight of American Christians Andrew Brunson and his wife Norine who were detained in Turkey earlier this month on charges that friends linked to their church work. Turkish officials arrested and detained the couple on October 7 in the coastal city of Izmir saying their activities constituted “national security risks”,” explained advocacy group Voice of the Persecuted (VOP).
The couple had been been living in Turkey for 23 years, running a church with “the full knowledge of the local authorities,” the group added in a statement obtained by BosNewsLife. “They were summoned to the police department on Friday, October 7, for what they assumed would be questions about their recent residency application. Upon their arrival they were presented with a letter from Ankara labeling them a threat to national security and ordering their deportation.”
The couple was “immediately detained, their phones were confiscated, and they were completely isolated from the outside world,” VOP said.
Turkish authorities reportedly denied repeated requests from their lawyers, the United States State Department, and friends to see them or communicate with them in any way. The couple was also “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,” stressed VOP, which closely monitors the case.
GOVERNMENT “FORGOT” THEM
“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.”
While Norine Brunson was released after 12 days on October 19 and verbally told that all charges against her were dropped, a lawyer apparently told her that it is almost certainly “not true given that nothing was put in writing.”
She was allowed to see her husband for half an hour on October 20, but was denied any access the next day, Christians said. Besides with his wife, Andrew Brunson has had no contact with the outside world since his detention, according to VOP.
“Norine and Andrew explicitly waived their right to protest the deportation, and yet there has been no deportation to date.” Rights activists said Turkey violates the right to legal counsel is guaranteed under Turkish law, and the right of the US State Department to visit detained American citizens as guaranteed by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which Turkey has ratified.
It comes amid mounting tensions between Turkey and the West in the aftermath of a failed coup, which saw thousands of people, including journalists, teachers, judges and others being detained on what critics view as trumped-up charges.
CONTROVERSIAL DEPORTATION ORDER
“At this point, the priority is to get Norine and Andrew safely out of Turkey, something entirely in keeping with the deportation order. Norine’s current visa expires on November 10, and though she might be forced to leave at any time, she really does not want to leave the country without Andrew,” VOP said.
“Norine is also concerned that her husband might be transferred from the current immigration center 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.”
VOP also said that there are “far more serious charges supposedly brought against them, but none of it in writing, and none of it with any semblance of transparency or accountability.” However it declined to discuss the charges, saying only that “Norine indicates that it’s difficult to overstate how dangerous the situation is.”
VOP urged is supporters to pray “that Andrew would be released from detention”, that “authorities would not discriminate against Christians in Turkey” and “for religious freedom in Turkey.” Christians comprise a tiny minority in the predominantly Muslim nation and have sometimes faced deadly attacks.