Over 100 European Parliamentarians call for release of Pastor Andrew Brunson from Turkish jail

FILE PHOTO: Andrew Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina, U.S. who has been in jail in Turkey since December 2016, is seen in this undated picture taken in Izmir, Turkey.Depo Photos via REUTERS

More than 100 European Parliamentarians are reportedly demanding the release of American Pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been incarcerated for 21 months over accusations that he participated in a conspiracy to overthrow the Turkish government.

Brunson, who led a church in Turkey for two decades, is facing up to 35 years in prison if convicted in court. A hearing already took place on May 7 and he is scheduled to appear again in court on July 18.

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has reported that 75 members of the European Parliament from 20 countries have signed an open letter asking Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to allow Brunson to return home.

The organization's international affiliate, the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ), has been calling on European politicians and international institutions to support the efforts to secure the release of the pastor. More than 100 members of the European Parliament have already expressed support for the campaign as of June 5, according to ACLJ.

Peter van Dalen, a Dutch member of the European Parliament, said: "It is a disgrace that this pastor is still unjustly held in jail. A disgrace that Erdo─čan suppresses and discriminates so much. And despite this, he would like to join the EU? No way."

Apart from the parliamentarians, 27 deputies from the Council of Europe have also indicated their support for Brunson. A statement from the deputies stressed that it is "urgent that Turkey respects its European commitments in putting an immediate end to this scandalous situation."

A Turkish judge ruled that Brunson will remain incarcerated until his next hearing. According to Newsmax, the judge reportedly refused to hear the testimonies of the people who wished to speak in support of Brunson in court. The potential witnesses were reportedly branded by the judge as "enemies of the state."

In an interview with Newsmax, one of the potential witnesses claimed that a "secret" witness who testified against the pastor was an extortioner who had reportedly blackmailed and physically threatened religious leaders to collect large amounts of money.

The secret witness had reportedly filed a lawsuit seeking $800,000 from a religious group, but the case and the subsequent appeal had both failed in courts.

Sandra Jolley, the vice chair of the U.S. government Commission on International Religious Freedom, asserted that the hearing in May had been "dominated by wild conspiracies, tortured logic, and secret witnesses," but no actual evidence against Brunson was presented.

Erdogan had previously suggested that Brunson could be set free if the U.S. extradites Pennsylvania-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is being blamed for the failed coup against the Turkish government.

"Give us the pastor back,' they say. You have one pastor as well. Give him to us. Then we will try him [Brunson] and give him to you," Erdogan said, according to Newsmax.