Under pressure, court allows convicted US pastor to leave Turkey

In December 2016, an American pastor was imprisoned in Turkey for charges that he committed crimes on behalf of terror groups. Nearly two years later, he will be released from the country – but only after intense pressure from the US government. 

Emrah Gurel/AP
A car holding US Pastor Andrew Brunson leaves the courthouse following his trial in Izmir, Turkey, on Oct. 12, 2018. A Turkish court convicted Mr. Brunson of terror charges but released him from house arrest and allowed him to leave Turkey.

A Turkish court on Oct. 12 convicted an American pastor of terror charges but released him from house arrest and allowed him to leave Turkey, a move that's likely to ease the tensions between Turkey and the United States.

The court near the western city of Izmir sentenced Andrew Brunson to 3 years, 1 month, and 15 days in prison for the conviction, but since the evangelical pastor has already spent two years in detention he won't serve more time.

The charge of espionage against him was dropped.

Mr. Brunson, whose detention sparked a diplomatic dispute between the two NATO allies, had rejected the espionage and terror-related charges and strongly maintained his innocence. The United States had repeatedly called for his release and in August slapped sanctions on Turkey.

Lawyer Ismail Cem Halavurt said Brunson was expected to leave Turkey for the United States.

The evangelical pastor had faced up to 35 years in jail if convicted of all the charges.

Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, was one of thousands caught up in a widespread government crackdown that followed a failed coup against the Turkish government in July 2016.

He was accused of committing crimes on behalf of terror groups and of alleged links to outlawed Kurdish militants and a network led by a US-based Turkish cleric who is accused of orchestrating the coup attempt. 

Brunson told the court he is "an innocent man. I love Jesus. I love Turkey." 

His trial came as Turkey and the United States are embroiled in another major diplomatic incident regarding a Saudi writer – US resident Jamal Khashoggi – who disappeared at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week. Turkish officials claim the writer may have been killed inside the Saudi diplomatic mission. Saudi officials reject the claims as "baseless."

Earlier, the court called two witnesses following tips from witness Levent Kalkan, who at the previous hearing had accused Brunson of aiding terror groups. The new witnesses did not confirm Mr. Kalkan's accusations. Another witness for the prosecution said she did not know Brunson.

Brunson again denied accusations that his church aided Kurdish militants, saying he had handed over a list of Syrian refugees whom the congregation had helped and adding that Turkish authorities would have identified any terrorists.

"We helped everyone, Kurds, Arabs, without showing any discrimination," he said.

The pastor, who is originally from Black Mountain, N.C., was imprisoned for nearly two years – detained in October 2016 and formally arrested in December that year – before being placed under house arrest on July 25 for health reasons.   

The court's decision at the time failed to improve tensions between the two NATO allies. Washington slapped sanctions on two Turkish officials and doubled tariff on Turkish steel and aluminum imports. Those moves in August, coupled with concerns over the government's economic management, helped trigger a Turkish currency crisis.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had resisted US demands for Brunson's release, insisting that the courts are independent. But he had previously suggested a possible swap of Brunson and the Pennsylvania-resident Fethullah Gulen – the cleric accused of being behind the coup.  

Mr. Gulen has denied the claim.

Brunson led a small congregation in the Izmir Resurrection Church. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, with top representative Tony Perkins monitoring the trial, has listed him as a "prisoner of conscience."  

William Devlin, an evangelical pastor from New York, spoke to reporters outside the Turkish prison, saying hundreds of thousands of Christians were praying for Brunson's release.  

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Under pressure, court allows convicted US pastor to leave Turkey
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Foreign-Policy/2018/1012/Under-pressure-court-allows-convicted-US-pastor-to-leave-Turkey
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe