Turkey: American pastor on trial for terror let out of jail

Emre Tazegul  AP

Emre Tazegul AP

Turkey on Wednesday moved from jail to house arrest an American pastor who has spent nearly two years imprisoned on terror-related charges, in a controversial case that has ratcheted up tensions with the United States.

Trump tweeted Thusday that the "United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey" for keeping Brunson in custody. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have demanded that Turkey release Brunson or face sanctions.

"We will continue working until Andrew Brunson is a free man and there is justice for him and for other unjustly detained American citizens and local Turkish employees of the U.S. diplomatic mission", Kosnett said, referring to additional concerns of Washington.

The vice-president, who is himself an evangelical Christian, attended the global summit on religious freedom at the state department on Thursday, which is thought to have sparked the outburst.

The US president said Andrew Brunson, 50, was "suffering greatly" after spending 18 months in a Turkish jail, with health problems forcing him to be moved to house arrest earlier this week.

Vice President Mike Pence is threatening North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally Turkey with economic sanctions over a detained American pastor held on terror and espionage charges.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent panel established by Congress, said Wednesday the move to house arrest is "not enough". Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also spoke at the conference. He also condemned Islamic State group violence toward religious minorities and what he described as rising anti-Semitism in Europe. In a tweet, Trump asked Erdoğan to free the Christian pastor.

The authorities accuse him of having links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the Gulenist movement, which Turkey blames for a 2016 failed coup.

Brunson reacts as he arrives at his home after being released from the prison in Izmir Turkey
ReutersU.S. pastor Andrew Brunson reacts as he arrives at his home after being released from the prison in Izmir Turkey

Brunson's case has been adjourned until October 12.

After two years of uncertainty in a Turkish prison, Pastor Andrew Brunson of Black Mountain, N.C., is finally being released. "I'm a little anxious that his health may have declined enough that they put him in house arrest because they didn't want something bad to happen in prison".

More than 77,000 people have been arrested across Turkey since the government declared a state of emergency in the failed coup's aftermath. He was charged with spying for the PKK - a designated terrorist group in the USA and Turkey - and the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), the group Turkey accuses of orchestrating the defeated July 2016 coup attempt. The crackdown has targeted journalists, activists and opposition figures.

At the end of a recent hearing, the court inside a prison complex in western Turkey rejected Brunson's lawyer's request that he be freed pending the outcome of the trial.

"I believe in and support Turkey's territorial integrity", he told the court. He has lived in Turkey for more than two decades. "I forgive those who lie and bear false witness against me".

US evangelicals have been an influential part of Trump's coalition of support, both in his campaign and in his administration, and have pushed the White House to act on the Brunson case.

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