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American pastor disavows charges in Turkish court

International | Andrew Brunson’s trial on espionage and terrorism-related allegations begins
by Julia A. Seymour
Posted 4/17/18, 02:35 pm

The trial of American pastor and missionary Andrew Brunson began Monday in Turkey. U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback were present.

Turkish authorities indicted Brunson in March on espionage and terrorism-related charges. He served as a pastor in Turkey for 23 years until his arrest and detainment in late 2016. If convicted, he faces up to 35 years in prison.

“I want the whole truth to be revealed,” Brunson told the court, the Hürriyet Daily News reported. “I reject all the accusations in the indictment. I haven’t been involved in any illegal activity.”

His attorney called the allegations totally unfounded.

Brunson’s arrest came just months after an attempted coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which Erdogan blamed on followers of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, who has lived in exile in the United States since 1999. The Turkish government rounded up many of Gülen’s followers after the coup attempt, but Brunson denies any connection with the cleric.

“The first thing to acknowledge about this trial is that it is not based in the rule of law,” International Christian Concern Advocacy Manager Nate Lance said. “These are clearly trumped up charges that are meant to force a type of prisoner exchange: Andrew Brunson for Gülen.”

Jacqueline Furnari, Brunson’s daughter, told Voice of the Martyrs Radio she doesn’t know what to expect from the trial. “We’re praying for a good outcome here,” she said. She asked others to keep her father, family, attorneys, and the judge in prayer, as well.

The U.S. State Department expressed optimism in a statement about the case Monday: “We have seen no credible evidence that Mr. Brunson is guilty of a crime and are convinced that he is innocent. We believe that Turkey is a state bound by the rule of law, and we have faith in the Turkish people’s commitment to justice. We hope that the judicial system in Turkey will resolve his case in a timely, fair, and transparent manner.”

The Turkish judge ordered Brunson to remain in prison until his second hearing resumes in May. 

Associated Press/Ben Cao Associated Press/Ben Cao The Rev. John Sanqiang Cao at a school construction site in Myanmar in May 2014

Seven-year sentence for Chinese-American pastor

China last month sentenced a Chinese-American pastor known for his work with underground churches and unofficial Bible schools to seven years in prison.

Authorities arrested the Rev. John Sanqiang Cao on March 5, 2017, as he returned to southern Yunnan province from one of his mission trips to neighboring Myanmar, also known as Burma. The Chinese government dished out the seven-year sentence to Cao for “organizing others to illegally cross the border.”

Cao attended seminary in New York and became a pastor in North Carolina. He founded more than a dozen Bible schools in central and southern China and built about 16 others in Myanmar.

“Nothing my father organized was ever political,” said Ben Cao, the pastor’s 23-year-old son. “We hope that China will be merciful and see that my father’s intentions were good.”

The Chinese Communist government continues to clamp down on Christian leaders and unofficial churches as it tightens its grip on power. Chinese citizens who leave the country without government permission for religious purposes could face a fine of up to $31,000, according to new regulations passed in February. —Onize Ohikere

Associated Press/Photo by Jamey Keaten Associated Press/Photo by Jamey Keaten UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock (center) at an aid conference last week

Congo snubs aid conference

Accusing the international community of exaggerating the country’s crisis, the Congolese government last week boycotted a United Nations conference that raised more than $500 million in aid for it. UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said more than 2 million children face severe malnutrition and 13 million other people require urgent assistance. The conference raised $528 million in pledges for the war-torn country.

Clashes persist among several armed militia groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo, further fueled by President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down from power.

Acting Prime Minister Jose Makila earlier said the aid efforts project “a bad image of the Democratic Republic of Congo throughout the world.” The country said the UN overstated the crisis, saying the conflict displaced about 231,241 people compared to the UN’s estimate of 4.5 million people. Despite the resistance, Lowcock noted the Congolese government pledged to provide $100 million in aid. —O.O.

Historic Nagasaki church opens persecution museum

Oura Church, a large Catholic parish in Nagasaki, Japan, opened a museum this month chronicling the history of Japanese persecution of Christianity.

The new museum educates visitors about the introduction of Catholicism to Japan in 1549, the Edo period when Christianity was banned and persecuted in the 17th to 19th centuries, and the return of Catholic missionaries to the country. New rulers lifted the ban in 1873.

“I thought Christianity had once been completely wiped out in Japan,” 29-year-old Natsumi Sato of Tokyo told Japan Times after visiting the museum. “I was surprised to learn that people in Nagasaki continued to uphold the faith.”

After Oura church was built in 1864, a group of underground Christians came to the priest and told him of their secret worship. The church is one of 12 places linked to persecution of Japanese Christians under consideration for UNESCO World Heritage Site status. —J.A.S.

UNICEF remembers child victims of Boko Haram

Boko Haram militants abducted more than 1,000 children since the group’s insurgency began in 2013, UNICEF said in a statement released on the fourth anniversary of the Chibok kidnapping, when militants took 276 girls from their school in northeast Borno state. The abducted children include more than 100 of the Chibok schoolgirls who remain in captivity. UNICEF said the group’s insurgency has killed at least 2,295 teachers and destroyed more than 1,400 schools. “The four-year anniversary of the Chibok abduction reminds us that children in northeastern Nigeria continue to come under attack at a shocking scale,” said Mohamed Malick Fall, UNICEF representative in Nigeria. “They are consistently targeted and exposed to brutal violence in their homes, schools, and public places.” —O.O.

Julia A. Seymour

Julia has worked as a writer in the Washington, D.C., area since 2005 and was a fall 2012 participant in a World Journalism Institute mid-career class conducted by WORLD editor in chief Marvin Olasky in Asheville, N.C. Follow Julia on Twitter @SteakandaBible.

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