Turkish court to release US pastor Brunson after two-year detention
A Turkish court ruled on Friday to release the US evangelical Christian pastor at the center of a bitter diplomatic row between Ankara and Washington, a move that could be the first step toward mending relationships between the NATO allies.
The court passed a 3 years and 1-1/2 month sentence on Andrew Brunson, who had been charged with terrorism offences, but said he would not serve any further time because he had already been detained since October 2016.
President Donald Trump on Friday said he hoped Brunson would be home safe soon, shortly after the court ruling.
“My thoughts and prayers are with Pastor Brunson, and we hope to have him safely back home soon,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Witnesses said Brunson wept as the decision was an- nounced. Before the judge’s ruling, the pastor told the court: “I am an innocent man. I love Jesus, I love Turkey.”
The case against Brunson, an evangelical preacher from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years and was arrested two years ago, had led to US tariffs against Turkey and drawn condemnation from Trump.
Brunson was charged with links to Kurdish militants and supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the cleric blamed by Turkey for a failed coup attempt in 2016. Brunson denied the accusation and Washington had demanded his immediate release.
Earlier, witnesses told the court that testimonies attributed to them against the pastor were inaccurate, heightening expectations that Brunson could be released and returned to the US.
Brunson appeared in the courtroom in the western coastal town of Aliaga wearing a black suit, white shirt and red tie. His wife Norine looked on from the visitors’ seating area as he listened to testimony from defence and prosecution witnesses.
Brunson will likely return to the US after the court ruling, Brunson’s lawyer said.