AN AMERICAN pastor, the Revd Andrew Brunson, who was detained in Turkey for two years on charges of conspiring against the government, has been freed.
The Revd Andrew Brunson, an Evangelical church leader who has lived in Turkey since 1993, was sentenced to 37 months when his case reached court last Friday, but the sentence was suspended because of time already served.
He returned immediately to the United States, where he talked and prayed with President Trump. “From a Turkish prison to the White House in 24 hours: that’s not bad,” the President joked in front of US television cameras and reporters.
Mr Brunson was detained in 2016 during a crackdown by the President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after a failed army coup (News, 11 May 2018). He was accused of working with the banned Gülen organisation: a movement led by a US-based cleric whom Erdogan accuses of trying to overthrow his government.
Mr Brunson, who has consistently denied the charges, told the court during his hearing on Friday that he was an “innocent human being”. “I love Jesus. I love Turkey,” he said.
During the hearing, two of the witnesses who alleged that Mr Brunson was part of the Gulenist movement recanted their testimony, throwing the state’s case into doubt.
The case had become a cause célèbre among many in the US Evangelical community. Mr Brunson’s release will be seen as a victory for President Trump both in diplomatic terms and in shoring up his position among Evangelical voters.
During his White House meeting on Sunday, Mr Brunson said: “I really want to thank the administration. You really fought for us — unusually so. From the time you took office, I know that you’ve been engaged.”
He then knelt and laid a hand on the President’s shoulder while praying, asking God to “give him supernatural wisdom to accomplish all the plans you have for this country and for him. I ask that you to protect him from slander from enemies, from those who would undermine. I ask that you make him a great blessing to this country.”
President Trump then asked the pastor how he had voted during the 2016 election, and said that he hoped that it had been for himself.
The US had imposed sanctions and doubled tariffs on Turkish goods as part of its efforts on Mr Brunson’s behalf, leading to strained relations between the US and Turkey, which are NATO allies.
After the pastor’s return to the US, however, President Trump thanked President Erdoğan for his help, and expressed the hope that the sanctions could soon be lifted.
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