October 12, 2018 – A Turkish court on Friday ordered the release from house arrest of an American pastor at the heart of a diplomatic dispute between Turkey and the U.S., a day after NBC News reported the two countries had struck a deal to allow him to walk free.
The court sentenced Andrew Brunson to three years in jail, but said the evangelical pastor would not spend any more time in jail because of time served.
There were unconfirmed reports soon after the court decision was announced that Brunson was on a plane on his way back to the U.S. President Trump tweeted shortly after the verdict was announced to say Brunson “will be home soon.”
Brunson, 50, was charged with links to Kurdish militants and supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the cleric blamed by Turkey for a failed coup attempt in 2016. He has denied the accusation.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which has been working on Brunson’s release, called Friday’s news, “A significant victory.”
“We’re grateful to the president, members of Congress and diplomatic leaders who continued to put pressure on Turkey to secure the freedom of Pastor Brunson,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ and a lawyer for President Donald Trump. “The fact that he is now on a plane to the United States can only be viewed as a significant victory for Pastor Brunson and his family.”
On Thursday, NBC News learned that the White House expected Brunson to be released by the Turkish government and returned to the U.S. in the coming days, two years after he was detained.
Trump announced economic sanctions against Turkey in August after talks with Ankara failed to result in Brunson’s release. He also has publicly called for Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to release the pastor.