(Posted by The Economist). Some evangelical Christians in the United States have stratospheric political connections, and can be sure of gaining access to the White House whenever they want. But Andrew Brunson, a Presbyterian minister from North Carolina who has been imprisoned for nearly a year in Turkey, is not part of that charmed circle.
Since 1993, he and his wife Norine have quietly built up and shepherded a community of about 25 souls in the Turkish city of Izmir, where they have raised three children. They belong to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, a smallish group which takes an intermediate position on Presbyterianism’s liberal-conservative spectrum.
When the Brunsons were summoned to the police station last October, they thought they might be about to receive the “permanent resident” status they had long wanted. Instead, they were both put under arrest. She was released after 13 days, but he remains incarcerated. He was initially charged with membership of a terrorist organisation, and more recently with gathering state secrets and attempting to overthrow the Turkish government. The authorities have failed to produce any convincing evidence or indeed to release any details of the case against him. Just in the last few days it has become clear that he has been haplessly caught up in a wider standoff between the governments of Turkey and America.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has suggested openly that the American pastor could be part of a high-level strategic swap. Swaps involving contentious individuals were a feature of the cold war: in 1976, for example, Vladimir Bukovsky, a Soviet dissident, was exchanged for a Chilean communist. But in this case a NATO ally wants to trade Mr Brunson not for another man’s freedom, but for another man’s arrest and extradition: that of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish preacher who lives in Pennsylvania.
Speaking to police officers on September 28th, Mr Erdogan virtually offered to send Mr Brunson home if the American authorities would turn over Mr Gulen, an erstwhile friend of Turkey’s ruling party who is now blamed for fomenting last year’s coup attempt in Ankara. (It was his movement to which Mr Brunson was allegedly linked.)