From Pastor Andrew Brunson to Osman Kavala: Rethinking Prisoners of Conscience in Turkey and Beyond

From Pastor Andrew Brunson to Osman Kavala: Rethinking Prisoners of Conscience in Turkey and Beyond

November 19, 2020
11:00 am - 12:30 pm

Event video

Dr. Andrew Brunson, American Pastor
Dr. Aykan Erdemir, Senior Director, FDD’s Turkey Program
Farahnaz Ispahani, Senior Fellow, Religious Freedom Institute; Global Fellow, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Dr. Sharon S. Nazarian, Senior Vice President of International Affairs, ADL
Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou, Faculty Member, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University
Speaker biographies included below.



American Pastor Andrew Brunson, targeted for his faith leadership, spent two years in a Turkish prison on trumped up charges of terrorism and espionage. Prominent Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala, an ardent supporter of Turkey’s ethnic and religious minorities and their heritage, has been similarly targeted and kept in prison for over three years. These two cases highlight the plight of Turkey’s vulnerable minorities and those who advocate for them. Although Pastor Brunson was recognized as a prisoner of conscience, Kavala hasn’t received the same attention. This panel draws attention to state persecution of individuals who advocate for religious minorities and defend pluralism in majority Muslim countries.

Hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Anti-Defamation League’s Task Force on Middle East Minorities, From Pastor Andrew Brunson to Osman Kavala: Rethinking Prisoners of Conscience in Turkey and Beyond, will explore the common patterns in the cases of Brunson and Kavala and provide policy recommendations on how to ensure prisoners of conscience — particularly those persecuted for their support of religious minorities — in Turkey and elsewhere receive the international attention and assistance they deserve. The event will be hosted on the virtual sidelines of the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom or Belief (hosted virtually by the Government of Poland).


Dr. Andrew Brunson

Dr. Andrew Brunson is an American pastor. He holds a PhD in New Testament from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. Andrew and his wife, Norine, were involved in starting churches, training believers, aiding refugees, and a house of prayer in Turkey for twenty-three years until being falsely accused of terrorism in October 2016. After this, Andrew was held for two years in Turkish prisons. Due to a worldwide prayer movement and significant political pressure from the US government, he was finally sentenced to time served and dramatically released in October 2018.

Dr. Aykan Erdemir

Dr. Aykan Erdemir, senior director of FDD’s Turkey program, is a former member of the Turkish Parliament (2011 to 2015) who served in the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee, EU Harmonization Committee, and the Ad Hoc Parliamentary Committee on the IT Sector and the Internet. As an outspoken defender of pluralism, minority rights, and religious freedoms in the Middle East, he has been at the forefront of the struggle against violent extremism, religious persecution, hate crimes, and hate speech in Turkey. He is a founding and steering committee member of the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief, and a drafter of and signatory to the Oslo Charter for Freedom of Religion or Belief (2014), as well as a signatory legislator to the London Declaration on Combating Antisemitism. He also serves on the Anti-Defamation League’s Task Force on Middle East Minorities. He was awarded the Stefanus Prize for Religious Freedom in 2016 and the First Freedom Award of the Hellenic American Leadership Council in 2019 in recognition of his advocacy for minority rights and religious freedoms. He is co-author of Antagonistic Tolerance: Competitive Sharing of Religious Sites and Spaces (Routledge).

Farahnaz Ispahani

Farahnaz Ispahani is a Senior Fellow at the Religious Freedom Institute and a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.  She works on Human Rights and Freedom of religion or belief. Ispahani is the author of the book Purifying The Land of The Pure: Pakistan’s Religious Minorities (Oxford University Press, 2017). The book analyses Pakistan’s policies towards its religious minority populations, both Muslim and non-Muslim, since 1947. Ms. Ispahani spent the formative years of her career as a print and television journalist. Her last journalistic position was as Executive Producer and Managing Editor of Voice of America’s Urdu TV. She has also worked at ABC News, CNN and MSNBC.  She has published over 50 newspaper opinion editorials as well as scholarly research papers. Choice, the flagship review outlet for the research library community included her book in the Outstanding Academic Titles category for 2017 books. In 2012 she was listed among Foreign Policy magazine’s Top 100 Global Thinkers, as well as Newsweek Pakistan’s Top 100 Women Who Matter.

Dr. Sharon S. Nazarian

Dr. Sharon S. Nazarian is Senior Vice President of International Affairs at ADL. Sharon heads ADL’s work fighting anti-Semitism and racial hatred globally, including ADL’s Israel office. Prior to ADL, Sharon was active in three worlds: academia, philanthropy and foreign policy. She is the President of the Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation, with a regional office in Israel named the Ima Foundation and the founder of the Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and Chair of its Advisory Board.  She studied at the University of Southern California (USC), double majoring in Journalism and International Relations, and went on to receive her Master’s and Ph.D. in Political Science from USC.

Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou

Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou is a faculty member at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where she directs the Initiative on Religion, Law, and Diplomacy. She is non-resident Senior Fellow and Co-Chair of the Working Group on Christians and Religious Pluralism in the Middle East at the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute. She is also Co-President of Religions for Peace. She served as Vice Chair and Commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and was a member of the U.S. Secretary of State’s Religion & Foreign Policy Working Group. The author of multiple edited volumes and many publications in scholarly and policy journals, she is a frequent commentator and contributor in U.S. and international media.