Middle East

Turkish court orders release of US pastor Andrew Brunson

A Turkish court has ordered the release of US pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been held in the country on charges of backing a coup attempt in July 2016 against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Brunson, an evangelical missionary who has worked in Turkey for more than 20 years, was arrested in December 2016 and also accused of aiding the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

I am an innocent man. I love Jesus, I love Turkey

– Andrew Brunson in court

The pastor appeared in court in Aliaga in western Izmir province on Friday, along with US charge d'affaires Jeffrey Hovenier, to hear the court's ruling.

Witnesses said Brunson wept as the decision was announced. Before the judge's ruling, the pastor told the court: "I am an innocent man. I love Jesus, I love Turkey."

Middle East Eye understands that Brunson will fly home to the US on Friday night.

The court sentenced him to three years of jail, but said he will not spend any more time in custody because of the time he has already served.

The US, which had imposed tariffs on imports of Turkish steel and aluminium over Ankara's refusal to release the pastor, had been adamant that Brunson was innocent and had repeatedly asked Turkey to free him.

The row with the US has exacerbated pressures on Turkey's lira, which has plunged more than 40 percent this year over concerns about Erdogan's influence on monetary policy, relations with Washington and the central bank's ability to rein in double-digit inflation.

Erdogan has cast the devaluation in the lira as an "economic war" against Turkey by foreign powers and has warned of action against those believed to be speculating on the economy or taking advantage of fluctuating exchange rates.

In recent weeks, the rhetoric between the two countries has calmed after Turkey told Washington that the conflict could only be resolved if public squabbling stopped, a Turkish diplomat told MEE.

“We knew we had to solve the problem and normalise our relations with the US for the sake of Turkeys economy, but it was not possible to do that amid challenging statements,” the diplomat said in late September.

“So we both decided to prevent any more escalation and solve the problem quietly.”

Within 20 minutes of the verdict, US President Donald Trump, who has rallied evangelical voters in his base over the pastor's case, said: "My thoughts and prayers are with Pastor Brunson, and we hope to have him safely back home soon."

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