NBC News reported Wednesday that U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson was released from prison and transferred to house arrest in Turkey after being in jail for two years. Brunson was initially imprisoned for charges of terrorism in October 2016 after the Turkish government detained him for allegedly participating in a failed coup. While he has now been placed under house arrest, he is still carrying out his 35-year sentence.
An evangelical pastor from North Carolina, Brunson has spent the last 23 years of his life in Turkey with his wife and children. Up until his arrest, he was running a small Protestant church in Izmir called Resurrection Church.
Brunson’s lawyer, Ismail Cem Halavurt, claims the pastor feels betrayed that the court did not release him earlier, stressing that now that he has been released, Brunson will be stuck inside his house.
While Brunson was released from prison on “health grounds,” Halavurt insists that he is well and in good health.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted Wednesday that he is glad Brunson has finally been released but added that “it is not enough,” claiming that the pastor has been falsely charged and imprisoned.
Brunson’s lawyer, Halavurt, initially filed a house arrest petition on July 18, but the court failed to release Brunson until a week later.
When Brunson was first denied release on July 18, President Trump expressed his disappointment via Twitter, tweeting that the whole situation was “a total disgrace,” claiming that Brunson was essentially being held hostage in Turkey. Trump even called on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to step up and release the U.S. pastor, adding that Brunson “has done nothing wrong.”
In a meeting with Erdogan in June, Senators Lindsey Graham and Jeanne Shaheen personally requested Brunson’s release, but Erdogan “implied that Brunson’s release would be conditional on the U.S. extraditing Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.”
We welcome long overdue news that Pastor Brunson has been moved from prison to house arrest in #Turkey, but it is not enough. We have seen no credible evidence against Mr. Brunson, and call on Turkish authorities to resolve his case immediately in a transparent and fair manner. pic.twitter.com/So2A4hfinZ
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) July 25, 2018
Gulen was charged with attempting to overthrow the Turkish government in 2016, although he has continually denied the accusation.
Now that Brunson has been released, he will be required to surrender his passport and wear an electronic ankle bracelet. According to the news agency controlled by the Turkish state, Brunson is banned from leaving the country.
The UN Human Rights Office claims that “160,000 people have been detained” for the failed coup that Brunson is alleged to have participated in. In March, a U.S. official reported that “there is a ‘small handful’ of U.S. citizens in detention following the overthrow effort.”