Andrew Brunson: Turkey Releases US Pastor After Two Years In Prison

Turkish court ordered release of Andrew Brunson, who had been held on terrorism charges related to the failed 2016 military coup.

Brunson was convicted of terrorism charges and sentenced to three years and one and a half months, but the court took time served into account and the remainder of his sentence was suspended. The interim panel of judges also lifted judicial control provisions, leaving Brunson free to travel outside Turkey.

 

The American pastor at the centre of a bitter diplomatic rift between Washington DC and Ankara is resting at his home in Izmir before traveling back to the US after a Turkish court ordered his release following two years in detention.

Witnesses in the courtroom in the western town of Izmir said Andrew Brunson wept as the decision was announced on Friday.

“I am an innocent man. I love Jesus, I love Turkey,” he had earlier told the court.

The surprise release of Brunson – who had been held on terrorism charges related to the failed 2016 military coup – suggests US-Turkey relations are thawing as Ankara seeks US help in investigating the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last week.

After the ruling, Donald Trump – who has made the case a foreign policy priority – wrote on Twitter that his “thoughts and prayers” were with Brunson, before posting in an all-caps tweet that the US pastor would be home soon.

Brunson was convicted of terrorism charges and sentenced to three years and one and a half months, but the court took time served into account and the remainder of his sentence was suspended. The interim panel of judges also lifted judicial control provisions, leaving Brunson free to travel outside Turkey.

His lawyer Jay Sekulow, who is also a member of Trump’s legal team, said the ruling was a “a significant victory for Pastor Brunson and his family”. .

“We’re grateful to the president, members of Congress and diplomatic leaders who continued to put pressure on Turkey to secure the freedom of Pastor Brunson,” he said.

US media reported on Thursday that Brunson’s freedom had been negotiated as part of a secret deal between Ankara and Washington which would lift like-for-like sanctions that have sent the Turkish lira plummeting.

Vice-President Mike Pence said the evening before the hearing he was “hopeful” of Brunson’s release, but denied the existence of any deal.

Brunson, who was moved from prison to house arrest for health reasons in July, appeared in court for the fourth time to face allegations of links to the outlawed Kurdish separatist PKK, as well as the religious Gülenist movement, which Turkey says was behind the failed 2016 military coup.

During the six-hour-long proceedings witnesses called for the prosecution backtracked or contradicted their previous testimony regarding Brunson’s alleged crimes. The prosecutor also revised down earlier calls for a 35-year jail sentence to 10 years.

The 50-year-old, who has lived in Turkey since the mid-1990s, is one of an estimated 50,000 people caught up in a crackdown on opposition launched by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in an attempt to consolidate control after the coup attempt.

Brunson’s release is expected to lead to the end of crippling sanctions and tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum which Washington imposed on its NATO ally this summer amid growing frustrations over his case.

The tit-for-tat row sparked fears of a full-blown economic crisis in Turkey and sent shockwaves rippling through other emerging markets. On Thursday night the lira steadied at 5.95 to the dollar as markets anticipated Brunson’s potential release.

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