Turkish court convicts USA pastor of terror yet frees him

Geraldine Edwards
October 13, 2018

Andrew Brunson, the American pastor who was imprisoned and then placed under house arrest in Turkey due to his alleged ties to an outlawed group, was ordered freed on Friday and sentenced to time served, a Turkish judge ruled.

The court dropped an espionage charge against Brunson, who had faced up to 35 years in jail if convicted of all the charges against him.

Another witness, who was unidentified, said he had never seen the members of which the Turkish authorities label as FETÖ in a prayer house by Brunson.

While supporters in the United States celebrated Brunson's release, his case overshadowed the predicament of a Turkish-American scientist from NASA and several Turkish workers for the US diplomatic mission who were arrested in Turkey.

Mr. Brunson was arrested by the Turkish government more than a year ago on charges related to terrorism and espionage.

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Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, visited with Brunson and his wife, Norine Brunson, the day before the trial.

A senior Trump administration official said, however, that the administration is "not fully confident" Turkey will oblige by the terms of the agreement. His children in the United States were afraid to visit because they were unsure if they'd be allowed to leave.

That hearing is now scheduled for Friday.

The exact date of his return to the U.S.is not yet known, but President Trump has voiced on Twitter that Pastor Brunson will be home soon.

Brunson's release "could reset Trump and Erdogan's relationship", Soner Cagaptay of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said. Brunson has been leading a Christian congregation and mission in Turkey for two decades.

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He was accused of committing crimes on behalf of terror groups and of alleged links to outlawed Kurdish militants and to a network led by a US -based Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey claims orchestrated the coup attempt.

"I don't know why they would pay so much attention to one man". The new witnesses did not confirm Kalkan's accusations.

In Turkey, witnesses said Brunson wept as the decision was announced.

At the ACLJ, we represent Pastor Andrew - a USA citizen from Black Mountain, North Carolina - who was imprisoned in Turkey because of his Christian faith. He was arrested in October 2016 and accused of complicity with the attempted coup against President Recep Erdogan in July that year.

An American evangelical Christian pastor at the centre of a row between Ankara and Washington looked set to fly home on Friday after a Turkish court freed him, a move that may signal a step towards mending ties between the allies.

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Those moves in August, coupled with concerns over the government's economic management, helped trigger a Turkish currency crisis. "A positive development in the cases of Pastor Brunson, Serkan Golge, and local employees of the US mission in Turkey would do much to improve confidence and to restore the bilateral relationship". But he had previously undermined that stance, suggesting a possible swap of Brunson for Gulen.

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