ANKARA, TURKEY – Andrew Brunson, a native of North Carolina, was a long term resident of Turkey, ministering a small congregation of Christians there for years, when he was arrested by Turkish authorities and charged with espionage. The detention of the American pastor strained relations between the US and Turkey, both NATO members, leading to each placing sanctions on the other.
A court has now sentenced Brunson to time already served and he has been released from house arrest.
“The decision ended a tense diplomatic standoff between the U.S. and Turkey that began after Brunson’s October 2016 arrest on terror and treason charges. The 50-year-old pastor was detained by Turkey as part of a massive government crackdown following a failed coup months earlier. Brunson was officially sentenced to three years and one month in prison for the conviction; but, because he had already served two years in detention, he wasn’t required to spend any more time behind bars.
Brunson appeared Friday at a prison complex in Izmir for his fourth hearing, telling the courtroom he’s “an innocent man.”
“I love Jesus. I love Turkey,” Brunson said, according to the Associated Press. Witnesses later said he wept as the verdict was announced.
His lawyer, Ismail Cem Halavurt, said Brunson was expected to leave Turkey for the United States later today.”
Brunson will surely be welcomed home, but he is not the only American being held in Turkish prisons.
After what appeared to be a failed coup attempt, Turkish leader Recep Erdogan initiated a purge of hundreds of thousands from government, academia, media, military, and technical jobs. The Turkish strongman accused them all of supporting the ‘Gulen’ movement that he alleges attempted the coup. Ever since, Erdogan has used emergency powers to assume more and more dictatorial powers leading into elections earlier this year in which the political system transitioned from a parliamentary system, to a presidential system, solidifying his powers.
“Several Turkish-American citizens — including NASA scientist Serkan Golge and several workers from the United States Embassy in Ankara — are languishing in prison alleged to have a connection to Gulen’s group.”
Brunson’s release is welcome news. The pressure on Turkey, however, should remain until the bogus charges against Americans are dropped. Actually, pressures should remain for as long as Erdogan continues his dictator act.