The U.S. Senate is deciding whether to block Turkey’s purchase of military planes due to the country’s imprisonment of an American pastor.
North Carolina native Andrew Brunson has been imprisoned by Turkey since October 2016, under the accusation that he has ties to the Islamic Gulen movement and Kurdistan Workers Party.
In response, the Senate is considering adding a provision to the defense spending bill that would stop a purchase of 100 F-35 planes by Turkey unless Brunson is freed.
“On its surface, because they’re a NATO ally, I don’t object to it,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., on the floor, according to NPR. “But today, I strongly object to it.”
There are also national security concerns associated with the F-35 transaction, with New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen also objecting to the purchase.
“The Turkish government claims to have purchased a Russian air defense system designed to shoot these very planes down,” said Shaheen.
A Presbyterian minister, Brunson preached in Turkey for nearly 20 years before being arrested on trumped-up charges of being tied to a Muslim Turkish preacher blamed for attempting to overthrow the government.
Human rights activists and politicians worldwide have condemned Turkey’s imprisonment of Brunson, including 75 members of the European Parliament who signed onto an open letter sent to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
“Pastor Andrew Brunson has been living peacefully in Turkey for 23 years. We believe he is an innocent political prisoner; therefore, we urge you again to release him without delay,” read the letter in part.
The American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative advocacy group that lobbies on behalf of persecuted Christians overseas, has voiced support for Congress depriving Turkey of the planes.
In a statement released Thursday, the ACLJ explained that “it is high time for Congress to inflict a heavy penalty on Turkey until” Brunson is released.
“Without this legislation, Turkey is poised to purchase 100 F-35s through a transaction that is approved and facilitated by the DOD,” stated the ACLJ.
“This kind of partnership makes strategic sense when the purchasing country is behaving like an ally of the U.S. and actively assisting with the global effort to defeat terrorism. It does not make sense when the purchasing country is behaving with hostility and imprisoning this innocent American for political reasons.”