Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announced on Thursday that the government will consider speeding up the trial of an American pastor who was imprisoned over alleged ties to a terrorist organization.
Pastor Andrew Brunson, who has lived in Turkey with his family for over 23 years, was detained on Oct. 7 for allegedly threatening national security, according to USA Today. CeCe Heil, an attorney with the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which is assisting Brunson's legal defense, said that the government has yet to provide evidence to support the charge.
"What we can do at this stage is accelerate the trial," Yildirim told a group of American journalists in Turkey. "As you will appreciate, judiciary matters are not directly controlled by us," he added.
The ACLJ, which delivered an oral intervention in support of Brunson at the United Nations, noted that the international pressure on the Turkish government is increasing.
"Our global legal advocacy campaign is beginning to put significant pressure on Turkey. But now is the time to ramp up that pressure," said ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow.
"Pastor Andrew should not even be forced to face a trial. He has done nothing wrong. Turkey has produced no evidence against him. He is wrongfully being held for his Christian faith. He should be released immediately and allowed to return home to his family in America," he added.
When Yildirim was asked about the pastor, he shared his frustration that the U.S. has not extradited the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who was accused of leading the military coup against the government last July. Gulen, who is currently living in Pennsylvania, has denied being involved in the coup attempt.
The Obama administration refused to turn the cleric over to Turkish authorities, saying Turkey must provide clear evidence of Gulen's involvement in the coup plot.
In a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the ACLJ noted that innocent religious minorities, such as Christians, have been "swept up" during Turkey's arrest of tens of thousands of suspected coup sympathizers.
Heil said that ACLJ's lawyers have reviewed all of Brunson's contacts and meetings leading up to the coup, but they have found nothing that could be considered suspicious.
She was worried that the pastor will be held hostage for Gulen, whose extradition must go through the U.S. court system before the President Donald Trump or the State Department can make any political decision.
Yildirim said that the idea was "nonsensical" and maintained that the two matters were separate.