WASHINGTON — North Carolina pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been held on terror charges in Turkey for more than two years, will be allowed to leave the country after being convicted, according to multiple reports. President Donald Trump announced the release on his Twitter account.
“PASTOR BRUNSON JUST RELEASED. WILL BE HOME SOON!” Trump tweeted.
PASTOR BRUNSON JUST RELEASED. WILL BE HOME SOON!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 12, 2018
The Associated Press reported that Brunson, 50, was sentenced to time served by the Turkish court. Brunson has denied the charges.
The pastor told the court he is “an innocent man. I love Jesus, I love Turkey,” according to the Associated Press.
Brunson is from Black Mountain, N.C. He started the Izmir Resurrection Church in western Turkey, where he has lived much of his life. Brunson was arrested in October of 2016, months after a failed coup attempt in the country. He faced charges of espionage and aiding terrorist groups.
The case has drawn the attention of North Carolina lawmakers, notably Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, who visited Turkey to attend part of Brunson’s trial. Tillis spoke about Brunson’s case on the floor of the Senate numerous times, pledging not to stop until he was released.
Other state lawmakers in Washington called on the U.S. to impose sanctions on Turkey in retaliation for Brunson’s treatment. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence had, in recent months, joined the call for Turkey to release Brunson.
The U.S. imposed sanctions on Turkey in August due to the dispute over Brunson.
Tillis, in an interview with Fox News, credited Trump with securing the release, calling him the “MVP in helping us get Pastor Brunson released.” Tilis also thanked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and fellow Sens. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina and Jean Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, for thier work.
Brunson was released from prison and put under house arrest in July. He faced up to 35 years in prison.
His wife, who lived in Turkey with Brunson, was afraid to leave the country during his imprisonment because she was afraid she would not be allowed to return, Tillis told McClatchy in April. His children in the United States were afraid to visit because they were unsure if they’d be allowed to leave.
“All we can say now is thank God. I’m glad this terrible chapter is closed, and I applaud President Trump for taking strong action to help secure Pastor Brunson’s freedom. I pray Pastor Brunson can now return home and he and his family can move on with their lives,” said Rep. Richard Hudson, R-Concord, in a statement.
“However, I remain concerned with the troubling pattern of human rights abuses and ongoing religious persecution by Turkish authorities. Pastor Brunson was being held as a political hostage and his charges should have been dropped completely.”
©2018 McClatchy Washington Bureau
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