Andrew Brunson Released from Turkish Custody
BREAKING: Brunson will be departing his apartment in Turkey to go to the airport to leave the country. His lawyer, Jay Sekulow, said Brunson will be flown to a U.S. air base in Germany where he will be evaluated and eventually flown back to the United States.
This is a developing story and will be updated.
ALIAGA, Turkey — A Turkish court on Friday convicted American pastor Andrew Brunson of aiding terrorism but sentenced him to time served and ordered his immediate release.
The case of the evangelical preacher caught up in Turkey’s post-coup security sweep had garnered attention at the highest levels of the U.S. government and become a sore point in the two countries’ relations.
Within minutes of the verdict, President Trump tweeted, “working very hard on Pastor Brunson.”
“PASTOR BRUNSON JUST RELEASED,” he tweeted later. “WILL BE HOME SOON!”
While Brunson, 50, was convicted on terrorism charges and sentenced to three years in prison, the judge reduced his sentence to two years time served for good behavior. The pastor has been held under house arrest since July, for health reasons, but that arrangement was also ended so he could leave the country.
“The verdict was the best of a bad situation,” Brunson’s defense attorney, Ismail Cem Halavurt, said outside the courthouse in western Turkey.
Of Brunson’s plans to travel to the United States, Halavurt said: “He is going to go.”
“But I hope he is able to come back,” he added. “He is someone who absolutely loves Turkey.”
The cleric, who is from North Carolina, wept and embraced his wife, Norine, as they waited for the judge to issue the ruling Friday.
His trial had resumed Friday in Aliaga, a district roughly 40 miles from his longtime home in the city of Izmir, just hours after U.S. officials said a deal had been reached with Turkish authorities to secure his release.
He headed a small evangelical congregation in Izmir until his detention two years ago.
The pastor has been held since then on what he and the Trump administration said were false terrorism- and espionage-related charges. Prosecutors accused him of being linked both to Kurdish separatists and to the U.S.-based Muslim cleric Turkish authorities say orchestrated a failed coup attempt in 2016.
Despite his release to house arrest in July, Brunson’s ongoing trial has helped deepen a rift between Turkey and the United States, already at odds over the latter’s support for Kurdish-led fighters battling the Islamic State in Syria.
Vice President Pence took a particular interest in Brunson’s case and has helped mobilize Trump’s evangelical political base in support of the cause.