Turk­ish court rules to re­lease U.S. pas­tor Brun­son

Tehran Times - - WORLD IN FOCUS -

A Turk­ish court ruled Fri­day to re­lease U.S. pas­tor An­drew Brun­son from house ar­rest, sen­tenc­ing him to three years in jail but say­ing he will not spend any more time in cus­tody be­cause of time al­ready served.

The court’s de­ci­sion to lift ju­di­cial con­trols meant that evan­gel­i­cal pas­tor Brun­son, at the heart of a diplo­matic spat be­tween the two coun­tries, could leave Turkey and re­turn to the United States.

Asked whether Brun­son would go to the U.S., his lawyer Is­mail Cem Halavurt said: “He will prob­a­bly leave.”

The de­ten­tion since Oc­to­ber 2016 of An­drew Brun­son on ter­ror charges caused not just one of the worst diplo­matic rows of re­cent times be­tween the NATO al­lies but also a crash in the Turk­ish lira, which ex­posed Turkey’s eco­nomic fragility.

Turk­ish ju­di­cial au­thor­i­ties have re­peat­edly de­nied re­quests for the re­lease of Brun­son, who was moved from prison to house ar­rest in Izmir city in late July.

But ob­servers see grow­ing in­di­ca­tions that he may, fi­nally, be al­lowed to go free at Fri­day’s hear­ing and the United States has ex­pressed hope he will be re­leased.

If the court forces him to stay in de­ten­tion or keeps a travel ban in place, the back­lash from Wash­ing­ton and also fi­nan­cial mar­kets could prove bruis­ing for Turkey.

“I’m hope­ful that be­fore too long he and his wife will be able to re­turn to the United States. That would be an im­por­tant step for­ward for the U.S. and Turk­ish re­la­tion­ship,” State Depart­ment spokes­woman Heather Nauert said ahead of the hear­ing.

The lira saw volatile trade ahead of the de­ci­sion, los­ing 0.5 per­cent in value against the dol­lar to trade at 5.94.

SE­CRET DEAL?

But Turkey in­sists its ju­di­ciary is in­de­pen­dent and Nauert said she was “not aware” of any such deal.

The re­sump­tion of the trial comes at a sen­si­tive time for the Turk­ish lead­er­ship, which is un­der global scru­tiny over how it han­dles the case of Saudi jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi who dis­ap­peared in Saudi Ara­bia’s con­sulate in Is­tan­bul.

If the Brun­son is­sue is re­solved to Wash­ing­ton’s sat­is­fac­tion, it could help the two sides co­or­di­nate their Saudi pol­icy more closely.

Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, who has in the past taken aim at Brun­son, ap­peared to dis­tance him­self from the case in his lat­est com­ments, say­ing he could not in­ter­fere in ju­di­cial af­fairs.

“What­ever de­ci­sion the ju­di­ciary makes, I am obliged to obey it,” he told Turk­ish re­porters.

Trump has lauded Brun­son as a “great pa­triot” who was be­ing held “hostage.”

Brun­son was first de­tained in Oc­to­ber 2016 on al­le­ga­tions of as­sist­ing groups branded as “ter­ror­ists” as part of a crack­down by the Turk­ish govern­ment fol­low­ing a failed coup ear­lier that year blamed on the U.S.-based preacher Fethul­lah Gulen.

If con­victed, he faces 35 years in jail on charges of aid­ing ter­ror groups and es­pi­onage. Brun­son and U.S. of­fi­cials in­sist he is in­no­cent of all charges.

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