Pastor's Wife Begs Rex Tillerson to Help Husband in Turkey Prison

Apr 01, 2017 11:54 AM EDT

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met Thursday in Ankara, Turkey, with the wife of a jailed American pastor, Andrew Brunson, a State Department official said on Friday.

Brunson is a missionary who has been held in Turkey since October on charges of being part of a terrorist organization, according to news reports. The pastor and his wife, Norine Brunson, initially were detained on immigration violation charges in October, when they were operating a small Christian church in the city of Izmir on Turkey's western coast, media reports state. Norine was released shortly after, but Andrew was kept in jail and accused of being part of terrorist activities.

The couple has been serving in Turkey since 1993.

"On Monday, Andrew told me he felt the Lord had said I would meet with Sec of State Tillerson. On Tuesday, I was told by the embassy and another senator that the meeting would NOT happen. I decided to come to Ankara anyway and arrived last night," Norine Brunson wrote on Facebook Thursday, just after she met for 20 minutes with Tillerson.

Turkish media reports state Brunson has been charged with membership of the Gulenist Terror Organization, the term which Turkish authorities use to refer to the network of U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, reports Yahoo News.

‎"Secretary of State Tillerson wanted to make sure he met with Mrs. Brunson to share the most recent information he had on Pastor Brunson's case. The Secretary ‎committed to staying in touch with Mrs. Brunson regarding the case moving forward," the state official said.

Gulen and his followers were accused of being behind an attempted coup in Turkey last July. Gulen rejects the allegations.

The case against Brunson allegedly is linked to a larger crackdown against anyone who the Erdogan regime deems an enemy. Christians, people suspected of supporting Kurdish rebels, and suspected followers of a U.S.-based cleric named Fethullah Gulen, have all been targeted by Erdogan's government.

Tillerson was in Ankara reportedly only to meet Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and senior government ministers for talks about the conflict in neighboring Syria. The former CEO at ExxonMobil had shown no indication he would meet with Norine Brunson.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a joint news conference with Tillerson that Ankara expected Washington to take concrete steps on the extradition of Gulen, calling for his detention in the United States.

Jordan Sekulow, the executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, told the Daily Caller Tillerson's meeting with Norine Brunson is a positive development in the case to help free Andrew.

"I plead with my government, with the Trump Administration, to fight for me," Andrew Brunson wrote in a letter to U.S. embassy officials this week asking for intervention to help him.

"I do not know what will come of it, considering the sensitive period Turkey is in, but was grateful for the opportunity," Norine Brunson wrote of her meeting with Tillerson.

According to TheDC, State Department representatives declined to provide details about Tillerson's meetings with Norine Brunson and Erdogan:  "We're aware of Mrs. Brunson's statement. We continue to engage with the Government of Turkey on behalf of Andrew Brunson. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment."