Turkey convicts US pastor but lets him leave

Hannah Rogers
October 13, 2018

A Turkish court on Friday, October 12, ordered the release of an American pastor held for the last two years in Turkey, in a case that caused a crisis in ties with the United States. Brunson has denied the charges.

The parents of a USA pastor facing terrorism charges in Turkey rejoiced on Friday as they learned after an all-night prayer vigil that a court ordered the release of their son. His administration had also placed sanctions on high-level Turkish officials earlier this year. He is a native of North Carolina, but had been living in Turkey for the past 23 years with his wife and three children.

"It's been an extremely hard time for our family and we want to express our appreciation to the millions of people around the world who have faithfully prayed for this day", Brunson said.

He had faced up to 35 years in jail on charges of aiding terror groups and espionage. It had moved Brunson from prison to house arrest in July. United States retaliatory sanctions on Turkey has been one of the leading factors in Turkey's devalued Lira.

Weeks before Brunson's release, a United States diplomatic source told MEE that relations can only be improved if Turkey gives up its decision to buy the S-400s.

His house arrest and overseas travel ban were also lifted by the court, following a request by the prosecution. "I love Jesus, I love Turkey".

The court handed down a 37-month sentence today (Oct. 12) but suspended that sentence, saying Brunson had already served almost two years. However, as NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul explains, the court says he will serve no more time, considering his health issues.

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When the verdict was read out, Brunson wept and hugged his wife Norine.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan, meanwhile, had said Turkey won't extradite anyone to the US until USA extradites Gulen. But the World Economic Forum places Turkey 103rd of 137 countries in the independent judiciary rankings and Turkey-watchers knew it would always come down to a political decision.

Washington wants all these people released, while Ankara has demanded the extradition of Gulen.

President Donald Trump imposed sanctions on Turkey after Ankara refused to release Brunson in August. "It is time that we close this ugly chapter in our relations". Mr Brunson was the key. "He was totally supportive of the government". Thom Tillis, who visited Turkey to attend part of Brunson's trial.

The American pastor is charged with links to Kurdish militants and supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the cleric blamed by Turkey for a failed coup attempt in 2016.

Turkey responded by symbolically freezing the assets of U.S. officials and vowing never to submit to USA pressure. USA support for Kurdish forces fighting the Syrian civil war has also angered Mr Erdogan, who views them as an extension of the PKK.

Brunson had been accused of collaborating with terrorist groups and participating in a 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. "We hope to solve the matters between us as soon as possible and develop ties with the U.S.in politics and the economy once again, in line with the spirit of being strategic partners". Details around the night of the coup remain complex but in the months following more than 50,000 people were arrested.

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