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Shaheen travels to Turkey, lobbies for U.S. pastor's release

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 30. 2018 9:13PM

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. (Courtesy)

WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said she traveled to Turkey last week, met with an imprisoned American pastor and personally lobbied a reelected president for the prisoner's release.

Shaheen confirmed on Saturday the previously undisclosed trip she had taken along with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and their separate meetings with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Pastor Andrew Brunson.

Since October 2016, Brunson has faced up to 35 years in prison for what Shaheen called unsubstantiated charges related to terrorism and espionage.

This was the first foreign delegation Erdogan had met since winning another term in office on June 24.

"Pastor Brunson has been unjustly imprisoned and kept away from his family for well over one year. The opportunity to see him and his wife, Norine, and to appeal directly to President Erdogan were my main objectives on this trip," Shaheen said. "Any time an American is wrongfully detained anywhere by a foreign government, it is our country's duty to do everything we can to bring him or her home."

Shaheen is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees.

A bipartisan group of senators led by Shaheen have raised awareness of the cases of Brunson and other Americans and U.S. employees who have been arrested.

Shaheen and Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C. successfully included an amendment in the Senate-passed National Defense Authorization Act that removed Turkey from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft program because of the country's detention of Brunson.

"I am confident that the Turkish President understands this, and I appreciated the opportunity to raise my concerns. The U.S.-Turkey relationship is of strategic importance to both countries," Shaheen said.

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