TURKEY – With 26 days remaining before the next hearing for U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson, individuals and international groups are turning up the pressure on Turkey’s leaders to release the North Carolina native.

For more than 600 days, Pastor Brunson has been imprisoned in a Turkish prison on false accusations of espionage and terrorism since his arrest in October 2016.

Two weeks ago, U.S Senator Roger Wicker introduced a bipartisan resolution urging President Trump to take action against seven countries, including Turkey, for what it described as “severe violations of religious freedom”. Wicker called for sanctioning Turkish officials responsible for Pastor Brunson’s imprisonment.

President Trump has voiced continued support for Brunson. In April, Trump said in a Twitter post that Brunson is “not a spy”, and in late May during a meeting to celebrate the release of U.S. former missionary Joshua Holt jailed in Venezuela, the President addressed Pastor Brunson, assuring him that U.S. officials are working on securing his release:

“Pastor Brunson – I hope you can hear us – we’ll be helping you at some point,” Trump said. “We’ve been working on it for a while. He’s been there a long time, and he’s a totally innocent man.”

Andrew Brunson was arrested during the purges occurring in the aftermath of the attempted 2016 Turkish “coup d’état”, when tens of thousands of Turkish military personnel, civil servants, educators, academics, dissidents, and journalists were imprisoned.

Andrew is being held in Buca prison in Izmir, the Turkish port city where for 23 years he and his wife Norine raised their children and pastored a small protestant congregation at Izmir Resurrection Church.

Image: Andrew Brunson (Credits: Open Doors USA). Open Doors USA contributed to this report.