U.S. pas­tor re­leased from Turkey af­ter be­ing held for over 2 years

Lodi News-Sentinel - - NATION/WORLD - By Brian Mur­phy

WASH­ING­TON — North Carolina pas­tor An­drew Brun­son, who has been held on ter­ror charges in Turkey for more than two years, will be al­lowed to leave the coun­try af­ter be­ing con­victed, ac­cord­ing to mul­ti­ple re­ports. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump an­nounced the re­lease on his Twit­ter ac­count.

“PAS­TOR BRUN­SON JUST RE­LEASED. WILL BE HOME SOON!” Trump tweeted.

The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported that Brun­son, 50, was sen­tenced to time served by the Turk­ish court. Brun­son has de­nied the charges.

The pas­tor told the court he is “an in­no­cent man. I love Je­sus, I love Turkey,” ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­ated Press.

Brun­son is from Black Moun­tain, N.C. He started the Izmir Res­ur­rec­tion Church in western Turkey, where he has lived much of his life. Brun­son was ar­rested in Oc­to­ber of 2016, months af­ter a failed coup at­tempt in the coun­try. He faced charges of es­pi­onage and aid­ing ter­ror­ist groups.

The case has drawn the at­ten­tion of North Carolina law­mak­ers, no­tably Repub­li­can Sen. Thom Til­lis, who vis­ited Turkey to at­tend part of Brun­son's trial. Til­lis spoke about Brun­son's case on the floor of the Sen­ate nu­mer­ous times, pledg­ing not to stop un­til he was re­leased.

Other state law­mak­ers in Wash­ing­ton called on the U.S. to im­pose sanc­tions on Turkey in re­tal­i­a­tion for Brun­son's treat­ment. Trump and Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence had, in re­cent months, joined the call for Turkey to re­lease Brun­son.

The U.S. im­posed sanc­tions on Turkey in Au­gust due to the dis­pute over Brun­son.

Til­lis, in an in­ter­view with Fox News, cred­ited Trump with se­cur­ing the re­lease, call­ing him the “MVP in help­ing us get Pas­tor Brun­son re­leased.” Tilis also thanked Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo and fel­low Sens. James Lank­ford, R-Ok­la­homa, Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-South Carolina and Jean Sha­heen, D-New Hamp­shire, for their work.

Brun­son was re­leased from prison and put un­der house ar­rest in July. He faced up to 35 years in prison.

His wife, who lived in Turkey with Brun­son, was afraid to leave the coun­try dur­ing his im­pris­on­ment be­cause she was afraid she would not be al­lowed to re­turn, Til­lis told McClatchy in April. His chil­dren in the United States were afraid to visit be­cause they were un­sure if they'd be al­lowed to leave.

“All we can say now is thank God. I'm glad this ter­ri­ble chap­ter is closed, and I ap­plaud Pres­i­dent Trump for tak­ing strong ac­tion to help se­cure Pas­tor Brun­son's free­dom. I pray Pas­tor Brun­son can now re­turn home and he and his fam­ily can move on with their lives,” said Rep. Richard Hud­son, R-Con­cord, in a state­ment.

MEHMET OZDOGRU/DEPO PHO­TOS

U.S. pas­tor An­drew Brun­son, mid­dle left, from Black Moun­tain, N.C., in Izmir, Turkey, on July 25.

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