American pastor freed; 'tenacious' Trump team thanked


The pastor was imprisoned for almost two years before being placed under house arrest on July 25 for health reasons.

At the ACLJ, we represent Pastor Andrew - a USA citizen from Black Mountain, North Carolina - who was imprisoned in Turkey because of his Christian faith.

Last week, Erdogan accused the Trump administration of using Brunson as a pretext for sanctions, charging the pastor has "dark ties to terror groups, Bloomberg reported".

A court in the western Turkish town of Aliaga on Friday sentenced Andrew Brunson, who had been charged with links to Kurdish militants and supporters of a USA -based Muslim cleric, to more than three years in prison but said he would not serve any further time because he had already been detained since October 2016. "I love Jesus. I love Turkey", he said in his final defence. Brunson has denied the charges.

Dressed in a black suit, white shirt and red tie, the North Carolina native wept as the decision was announced, witnesses said. He was moved from jail to house arrest at his home in the city of Izmir in July, in what was seen as a potential step toward his release.

Brunson was not the only American behind bars in Turkey on questionable charges.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters Thursday that the U.S. was hopeful he will soon go free, but said she was unaware of any agreement for his release.

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Pompeo said in a speech Wednesday to the Jewish Institute for National Security of America he was "very hopeful that before too long Pastor Brunson will, he and his wife will be able to return to the United States".

Mr. Trump discussed Mr. Brunson's plight on Twitter as reports started to surface.

Kerem said Pastor Brunson stood for more than his own freedom.

"We are grateful for the President's commitment and efforts in securing my release", Brunson said in a statement released by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which has been working to secure his release.

Brunson was first detained in October 2016 on allegations of assisting groups branded as terrorists as part of a crackdown by the Turkish government following a failed coup earlier that year blamed on US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen. Tens of thousands of others here who claim wrongful imprisonment don't have the backing of a powerful state to resist what they say is Turkey's politicised judiciary.

Turkey bristled at suggestions that its judicial system is a foreign policy instrument, and has accused the US of trying to bend Turkish courts to its will with tariffs in August that helped to send the Turkish currency into freefall.

But in recent weeks, Brunson's release became the subject of talks "at the highest level" so that the U.S. and Turkey could move on to dealing with over issues facing the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies, a United States diplomat told Middle East Eye. "Those prayers combined with the unwavering resolve of President Trump, Vice President Pence, Secretary Pompeo and Ambassador Brownback brought tangible help to Pastor Brunson and hope to those around the globe who are being persecuted due to their faith". After the coup fell apart, Erdogan's government arrested more than 50,000 people for their alleged involvement in it.