Turk­ish court con­victs US pas­tor of ter­ror yet frees him

The Oklahoman - - OPINION - BY ZEYNEP BIL­GIN­SOY

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.

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