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PROFILE Andrew Brunson: US pastor detained in Turkey for two years is free

Europe
12.10.2018
By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Istanbul (dpa) - When Andrew Craig Brunson moved to Turkey in 1993 he was just 25. The evangelical US pastor, now 50, will soon leave his congregation and his home of more than two decades after being freed Friday by a Turkish court.

Brunson - who was born on January 3, 1968, and is a native of Black Mountain in the US state of North Carolina - was swept up in the aftermath of an attempted coup in Turkey two years back.

His continued detention caused a major diplomatic crisis between Washington and Ankara and his cause was taken up by US President Donald Trump and his deputy Mike Pence.

A court in the Aegean province of Izmir - where Brunson led a small, evangelical Presbyterian church - on Friday lifted his house arrest and travel ban.

While it convicted him on terrorism-related charges and sentenced him to three years, one month and 15 days in jail, he is a free man, taking into account time already served.

"My client is free now," Brunson‘s lawyer Ismail Cem Halavurt said after the ruling, adding that he expects him to leave later Friday because there is a risk to his safety if he stays.

"He is someone who loves Turkey and wanted to stay here. But he has to go now. That makes him a bit sad, of course," Halavurt said.

Earlier, Brunson had told the court: "I‘m an innocent man. I demand my acquittal. I leave my defence to the lawyer. I love Jesus. I love Turks."

The pastor was visibly shaken shortly before the verdict was announced. He wiped his eyes with a handkerchief, and then rested his forehead on the shoulder of his wife Norine and hugged her for several minutes.

In April 2016, Brunson filed a regular request to extend his Turkish residency. On July 15 that year, a faction of the Turkish military launched a coup attempt.

In October 2016, Brunson was summoned by the authorities for what he assumed was a routine visa question, but he was detained and told he would be deported. That December he was formally arrested on terrorism charges. He was indicted only a year later.

The US government and Brunson‘s family maintained the charges were trumped-up, but Turkish authorities accused him of links to terrorist groups, including the outlawed Kurdistan Workers‘ Party (PKK).

He was also accused of being connected with the conservative Islamist movement of Fethullah Gulen, a cleric whom the Turkish government blames for the coup attempt.

His continued detention severely strained relations between the US and Turkey, which imposed tit-for-tat sanctions on each other‘s ministers, as well as tariffs on imports. The impasse triggered a currency crisis in Turkey.

The NATO allies may now mend relations, but Brunson‘s case and his return to the US will become a cause celebre for US evangelicals, especially ahead of crucial mid-term elections in November.

"Pastor Andrew Brunson is coming home! Thanks to the strong leadership of @POTUS Trump and the steadfast prayers of millions of Americans, this innocent man of faith will soon be home!" Pence tweeted on Friday.

US media reported overnight that the White House had come to a "secret deal" with Ankara, in which Brunson would be released and some charges against him dropped in exchange for the easing of economic pressure on Turkey.

On Friday, Trump‘s tweet on Brunson indicated that his administration had worked hard on the case. Turkey was quick to take umbrage.

Erdogan‘s communications chief Fahrettin Altun said: "We would like to remind him [Trump] once again that Turkey is a democratic country with the rule of law, and that Turkish courts are independent."

Altun added: "Like the Turkish courts, the Republic of Turkey does not receive instructions from any body, authority, office or person."

 

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