American Pastor Ordered To Be Released From Turkish Prison
Andrew Brunson, an American pastor facing terrorism charges in Turkey, was ordered to be released from jail and placed on house arrest on Wednesday.
Brunson, a North Carolina native, is not allowed to leave Turkey as part of the arrangement, according to Hurriyet Daily News. The Daily Sabah reports that Brunson was granted house arrest due to health concerns raised by his attorneys.
He will remain under house arrest until his next court hearing, scheduled for Oct. 12.
The court decision is a positive step for Brunson, who has been in jail since October 2016 on what the American government claims are bogus charges that he aided and abetted terrorist groups while operating a Christian church in the coastal city of Izmir.
Brunson and his wife, who have operated churches in Turkey for 23 years, were arrested on what they initially believed were immigration charges. But while Brunson’s wife was released from jail, he was slapped with additional charges of helping groups considered terrorist organizations in Turkey.
President Donald Trump and top administration officials have pressed the Turkish government and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for Brunson’s release.
Trump asserted earlier in July that Turkish authorities were holding Brunson “hostage.”
“A total disgrace that Turkey will not release a respected U.S. Pastor, Andrew Brunson, from prison. He has been held hostage far too long,” Trump tweeted on July 18.
“[Erdogan] should do something to free this wonderful Christian husband & father. He has done nothing wrong, and his family needs him!”
Erdogan, who has led a crackdown on civil society since a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016, has openly acknowledged that he is holding Brunson in jail as a bargaining chip to force the U.S. government to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric living in exile in the U.S. (RELATED: ‘Disgrace’: Trump Confronts Erdogan Over Jailed American Pastor)
“The U.S. should look at the steps it has taken and comply with the extradition treaty if it wants American Pastor Brunson,” Erdogan said in an interview in April.
Erdogan alleges that Gulen masterminded the failed coup in 2016. Among the groups that Brunson is accused of helping is a network of Gulen followers that the Turkish government calls the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO). Brunson’s attorneys say that the Turkish government has not presented any evidence linking Brunton to the Gulen network. (RELATED: US To Take ‘Imminent Action’ After Turkey Refuses To Release American Pastor)
Jay Sekulow, an attorney for both Brunson and President Trump, said after last week’s decision that U.S. authorities were taking “imminent action” to free Brunson.
In an interview last Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Brunson’s case was “very much a focus” of the State Department.
“We’re optimistic that in the days and weeks ahead we’ll get a good outcome for Pastor Brunson, his family, and frankly for many of those that are held in places around the world,” he said.
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