Turkish court says US pastor Brunson can go free
October 12, 2018
ALIAGA, Turkey (Reuters) - A Turkish court ruled on Friday that the American evangelical Christian pastor at the center of a row between Ankara and Washington could go free, a move that could be the first step toward mending ties between the NATO allies. The court sentenced Andrew Brunson to three years and 1-1/2 months in prison on terrorism charges, but said he would not serve any further jail time. The pastor, who has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years, was put in prison two years ago and has been under house arrest since July. U.S. President Donald Trump, who has imposed sanctions on Turkey in an attempt to secure Brunson’s release, tweeted: “PASTOR BRUNSON JUST RELEASED. WILL BE HOME SOON!” Dressed in a black suit, white shirt and red tie, the North Carolina native wept as the decision was announced, witnesses said. Before the judge’s ruling he had told the court: “I am an innocent man. I love Jesus, I love Turkey.” After the ruling, Brunson’s lawyer told reporters he pastor was likely to leave Turkey. The diplomatic stand-off over Brunson, who had been pastor of the Izmir Resurrection Church, had accelerated a selloff in Turkey’s lira, worsening a financial crisis. Brunson had been accused of links to Kurdish militants and supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the cleric blamed by Turkey for a coup attempt in 2016. Brunson denied the accusation and Washington had demanded his immediate release. Witnesses told the court in the western town of Aliaga that testimonies against the pastor attributed to them were inaccurate. After the judge questioned one witness, Brunson said the judge was asking about incidents Brunson had not been involved in. His wife Norine looked on from the visitors’ area.