Turkish court convicts US pastor of terror yet frees him
IZMIR, TURKEY — A Turkish court on Friday convicted an American pastor of terror links but released him from house arrest and allowed him to leave the country, a move that’s likely to ease tensions between Turkey and the United States.
The court near the western city of Izmir sentenced North Carolina native Andrew Brunson to three years, one month and 15 days in prison for allegedly helping terror groups. But since the 50-year-old evangelical pastor had already spent nearly two years in detention, Turkish law allowed him to remain free with time served. An earlier charge of espionage against him was dropped.
Brunson, a native of North Carolina whose detention had sparked a diplomatic dispute between the two NATO allies, had rejected the espionage and terrorrelated charges and strongly maintained his innocence. The 50-yearold had faced up to 35 years in jail if convicted of all the charges. With tears in his eyes, he hugged his wife Norine Lyn as he awaited the decision Friday.
After the verdict, President Donald J. Trump tweeted he was praying for Brunson, saying he “WILL BE HOME SOON!”
Lawyer Ismail Cem Halavurt said Brunson was expected to leave Turkey for the U.S., but it was not clear when. His lawyer said the electronic ankle bracelet monitoring his house arrest was removed. Brunson went back to his home in Izmir after the court proceeding.
Washington had repeatedly called for Brunson’s release and in August had slapped sanctions on Turkey.
But a top Turkish official criticized Trump’s tweets claiming that he was “working hard” to get the pastor’s release. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s communications director, Fahrettin Altun, repeated the president’s stance that Turkey would not bow to threats of sanctions and said the court’s ruling Friday proved the judiciary’s independence.