United States pastor held for two years freed by Turkish court

United States pastor held for two years freed by Turkish court

United States pastor held for two years freed by Turkish court

Longtime Turkish captive Andrew Brunson was released from house arrest Friday, allowing the pastor to return to the United States after two years in captivity.

Brunson told the court he is "an innocent man". Brunson was arrested in October of 2016, months after a failed coup attempt in the country.

"President Trump and his team have been tenacious in seeking the release of Pastor Brunson", Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for Brunson, said in a statement.

Brunson, who is from North Carolina and has worked in Turkey for more than 20 years, has been accused of helping the group headed by exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has been living in Pennsylania and whose supporters Ankara says were behind a failed military coup in 2016.

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President Trump cheered the decision on Twitter.

President Donald Trump tweeted - after worldwide press reported the verdict - that he was '[w] orking very hard on Pastor Brunson!'

Earlier, the court called two witnesses following tips from witness Levent Kalkan, who at the previous hearing had accused Brunson of aiding terror groups.

In the fourth hearing in the case against Andrew Brunson, the prosecutor however also recommended that he be convicted on terror-related charges.

USA pastor Andrew Brunson, accompanied by Turkish security officers, arrives at Aliaga Prison and Courthouse complex in a vehicle in Izmir, Turkey October 12, 2018. According to the Brunson's lawyer, the decision to lift the controls would let his client leave Turkey immediately. He denies the claims against him made by Turkish officials.

Prosecutors had accused Brunson of acting on behalf of terror groups, specifically linking him to outlawed Kurdish militants and a network led by USA -based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. Vice President Mike Pence also called for Erdogan to release Brunson "or be prepared to face the consequences".

Turkey's government had faced threats of further USA sanctions over its treatment of the pastor, who denies all charges against him, but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan always insisted that the Turkish judicial system be allowed to function.

Brunson's continued detention - and Erdogan's refusal to release him despite intense pressure from the White House - was a significant factor in a precipitous decline in U.S. -Turkey relations in recent months. "Will be home soon!" he wrote. In his own words today: "This is the day our family has been praying for - I am delighted to be on my way home to the United States". President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's communications director Fahrettin Altun repeated the president's message that Turkey would not bow to threats of sanctions and said the court's ruling proved the judiciary's independence. Washington slapped sanctions on two Turkish officials and doubled tariff on Turkish steel and aluminum imports.

"We are grateful for the President's commitment and efforts in securing my release", said Pastor Brunson, as he prepares to leave Turkey en route to the US.

Turkish officials had sought meetings with the U.S.to negotiate a resolution to the Brunson case and other issues, but in August National Security Adviser John Bolton declared no such talks would proceed until Brunson was let go.

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