Cece Heil minces no words.
“This is a sham trial,” she says, without hesitation.
Heil is the executive senior counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice, which has been representing Andrew Brunson since the beginning of his ordeal.
It was an ordeal that few saw coming. For more than 20 years, Brunson served the 160,000 Christians who live in Turkey from his small church in the Aegean coastal town of Izmir, about 300 miles southwest of Istanbul.
Then, in July 2016, the military attempted to overthrow the Turkish government lead by Recep Tayyip Erdogan. And Erdogan wasted no time cracking down – and not just on those directly involved in the coup.
“Pastor Brunson lived in Turkey for 23 years, raising his three children there without any problem. And it wasn't until shortly after the coup that he was arrested, so more than likely that was the reason for Rev. Brunson's arrest,” Heil said. “There was a time where several Christian pastors were arrested, detained in migration management and deported and that's what we originally thought was going to happen to Pastor Brunson because there were orders for deportation set for him but he wasn't ever deported - he was later transferred to prison and charged with being a terrorist.”
But the US has taken notice.
Brunson is from the Black Mountain area of North Carolina and his home state senator, Thom Tillis, was in the courtroom in Turkey for Brunson’s first hearing on April 16 and says what Turkey is doing is not in its long tradition of religious tolerance.
“We have a very long history (with Turkey),” Tillis noted outside the courtroom, after the hearing. “We're NATO partners, we're trading partners - there are a lot of dimensions of this relationship that I, for one, want to see grow stronger and this is not helpful.”
Heil believes it will take significant political pressure for Erdogan to relent.
“I believe President Erdogan does have an ego and I believe he does care what the world thinks about him,” Heil said.
See what may be the real reason for Erdogan’s detainment of Brunson in this edition of the Buckley Report.