Turkey frees U.S. pas­tor

Trump says no con­ces­sions were made in talks to end de­ten­tion

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - Ar­ti­cle, 4A

Amer­i­can pas­tor An­drew Brun­son and his wife, Norine, ar­rive at the air­port in Izmir, Turkey, on Fri­day af­ter Brun­son was freed by a Turk­ish court, end­ing his 24-month im­pris­on­ment in the af­ter­math of a failed coup in 2016.

SAKRAN, Turkey — A Turk­ish court on Fri­day or­dered the re­lease of Amer­i­can pas­tor An­drew Brun­son from house ar­rest, a move that ended his 24-month im­pris­on­ment and will al­low him to fly home, and that sig­naled a truce of sorts in a heated diplo­matic dis­pute be­tween Turkey and the United States.

Brun­son, who was ac­cused of spy­ing and aid­ing ter­ror­ists, had been sen­tenced to three years, one month and 15 days in pri­son, but the judge lifted all ju­di­cial con­trols — in­clud­ing a ban on travel — leav­ing him free to leave the coun­try im­me­di­ately be­cause of a sen­tence re­duc­tion for good be­hav­ior and in view of time served.

Brun­son left the court­house by car shortly af­ter the de­ci­sion was an­nounced, and U.S. of­fi­cials fol­low­ing the case said he re­turned home to Izmir be­fore de­part­ing for Ger­many en route to the United States.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion had pressed hard for the re­lease of Brun­son, an evan­gel­i­cal pas­tor who runs the small Res­ur­rec­tion Church in Izmir. He was one of two dozen Amer­i­cans de­tained in the af­ter­math of a failed coup in 2016 and was charged with aid­ing ter­ror­ist groups and es­pi­onage, charges he de­nies.

Brun­son’s pro­longed de­ten­tion and trial sig­nif­i­cantly height­ened ten­sions be­tween the United States and Turkey. Trump and Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence per­son­ally raised his case sev­eral times with Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan of Turkey, the United States im­posed fi­nan­cial sanc­tions and mem­bers of Congress trav­eled to Turkey to at­tend his trial.

“Thanks be to God,” said the Rev. Wil­liam Devlin of New York, who at­tended ev­ery hear­ing. “Pas­tor Brun­son is go­ing home. We thank the court, we thank Turkey and we thank Pres­i­dent Er­do­gan.”

Wash­ing­ton and Turkey have been in­volved in com­plex ne­go­ti­a­tions over Brun­son’s fate for months. U.S. of­fi­cials had also pushed, un­suc­cess­fully, for Brun­son’s re­lease to in­clude the free­ing of Serkan Golge, a Turk­ish-Amer­i­can sci­en­tist, and three Turk­ish cit­i­zens who had worked at U.S. diplo­matic mis­sions.

Af­ter the pas­tor’s re­lease, Trump in­vited him to come to the White House as early as to­day. “We’re very hon­ored to have him back here with us,” he told re­porters in Ohio, where he was trav­el­ing for a cam­paign rally. “He suf­fered greatly.”

Trump added that he made no con­ces­sions to se­cure Brun­son’s re­lease.

“There was no deal made” for his re­lease, he said.

Turkey is grap­pling with a grow­ing eco­nomic cri­sis and has been anx­ious to re­duce a fine of billions of dollars that the U.S. Trea­sury is ex­pected to im­pose on the state-owned Turk­ish bank, Halk­bank, for its part in a con­spir­acy to vi­o­late U.S. sanc­tions against Iran.

A bank of­fi­cial, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, was sen­tenced to 32 months’ im­pris­on­ment in May in a Man­hat­tan court for his part in the scheme.

Wash­ing­ton has ac­cused Ankara of hold­ing Brun­son for use as lever­age in its var­i­ous dis­putes with the United States.

In par­tic­u­lar, Turkey has re­quested the ex­tra­di­tion from the United States of Is­lamist preacher Fethul­lah Gulen, whom it ac­cuses of run­ning a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion and of in­sti­gat­ing the 2016 coup at­tempt. Er­do­gan once sug­gested a swap of the cleric and the pas­tor.

A Turk­ish court or­dered that Brun­son re­main de­tained, though he was later moved to house ar­rest, and he has been liv­ing since Au­gust with his wife, Norine, at his apart­ment in an old quar­ter of the sea­side city of Izmir. Since then, Turk­ish courts have sev­eral times re­fused his ap­peal for re­lease on health grounds.

Wash­ing­ton re­acted by im­pos­ing fi­nan­cial sanc­tions on the Turk­ish in­te­rior min­is­ter and jus­tice min­is­ter. Days later, Trump an­nounced that the United States was dou­bling its tar­iffs on steel and alu­minum im­ports from Turkey, just as the Turk­ish cur­rency, the lira, be­gan a pre­cip­i­tous fall against the dollar.

Er­do­gan vowed that he would not suc­cumb to threats, and an­nounced re­tal­ia­tory mea­sures, in­clud­ing in­creased tar­iffs on im­ported U.S. cars, al­co­hol and leaf to­bacco.

The Turk­ish gov­ern­ment has in­sisted that Er­do­gan can­not in­ter­fere with the ju­di­cial process in Turkey, and of­fi­cials have em­pha­sized that Brun­son is charged with se­ri­ous crimes, in­clud­ing es­pi­onage and aid­ing the Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Party, a sep­a­ratist group that Turkey, the United States and the Euro­pean Union have des­ig­nated a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion.

U.S. of­fi­cials have said that the Turk­ish pros­e­cu­tors pre­sented no cred­i­ble ev­i­dence to sup­port their case, and the trial, which has un­folded with a hear­ing ev­ery few months, has pro­duced few hard facts to sup­port the no­tion that Brun­son was in­volved in ter­ror­ism.



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