Turkish court orders American pastor Andrew Brunson released from house arrest

Turkey on Friday ordered a North Carolina pastor, who was held on espionage charges for more than two years, to be released from house arrest.

At a hearing in Ankara, the court released Rev. Andrew Brunson from house arrest but convicted him of a "terror" charge.

"PASTOR BRUNSON JUST RELEASED. WILL BE HOME SOON!" President Donald Trump tweeted Friday morning.

Turkey imprisoned Brunson and his wife, Norine, in October 2016, along with 20 other Americans, as part of a political crackdown following a failed coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Norine Brunson was released after 13 days. Andrew Brunson was held in prison until July, when Turkish officials moved him to house arrest.

Brunson’s case became a cause célèbre among Christian evangelicals, including Vice President Mike Pence, and a political rallying cry for Trump, who was propelled to office in part by the evangelical vote.

Tony Perkins of U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on Friday said the court’s ruling was "good news."

Perkins, who was appointed by Trump to the commission, attended the hearing in Ankara.

"We celebrate along with the millions of Americans who have been praying for Pastor Brunson’s release," Perkins said in a statement. "President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Secretary Pompeo are to be commended for their resolve, not only in defending Pastor Brunson but in defending the fundamental freedom of all people in all places."

Trump has frequently invoked Brunson in speeches and on Twitter, calling him a “great Christian,” and has pushed for his release. In August, the administration announced economic sanctions against Turkey after negotiations for his release fell through. The Treasury Department levied sanctions on two senior Turkish cabinet ministers, which Erdoğan reciprocated. The Trump administration then authorized doubling existing U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs against Turkey.

Congress in August passed legislation to block the sale of 100 F-35 aircraft to Turkey.

Brunson faced a sentence of up to 35 years in prison if convicted.

Several lawmakers also praised the Turkish court’s decision.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) commended Trump and Pence for working "hard for our fellow American’s freedom."

“This is long overdue news," he said in a statement. "The Turkish government should put Pastor Brunson on the next flight home. I’m grateful that Pastor Brunson’s unjust detainment is coming to an end."

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) tweeted that the decision was "amazing news and an answer to prayer."

"Tremendous work by President Trump and the administration team pushing for this," he wrote. "We look forward to your return, Pastor Brunson!"

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) during a phone interview on Fox News, however, said this could be a turning point in U.S.-Turkey relations. But he said he was not going to celebrate until Brunson was back in the United States.

"I’m pleased. I won’t celebrate until he gets home," Graham said. "This would allow the relationship between the United States and Turkey to improve, and he is a fine man, Pastor Brunson and his wife, and I’m just going to withhold comment until he gets home. But this is a great day, and it maybe starts a new beginning with the U.S.-Turkey relationship."


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