14 December 2018

Turkish court frees US pastor Andrew Brunson

KONFRONTASI-A Turkish court ordered the release of an American pastor held for the past two years in Turkey in a case that sparked a crisis in relations with the United States.

Andrew Burnson was convicted of terror-related charges and sentenced to three years, one month and 15 days in jail on Friday.

But he was freed, taking into account the time already served and good conduct during the trial. The court also lifted his house arrest and overseas travel ban, paving the way for his return to the US.   

"This is good news for the Americans, as well as the Turkish market. Everybody was waiting for this court decision, as there was pressure on the Turkish lira following the tension between the US and Turkey" over the Brunson case, reported Al Jazeera's Sinem Koseoglu from Izmir.

A lawyer for the Brunson family said the pastor was on a flight to the US, Reuters news agency reported.

After the court ordered Brunson's release, US President Donald Trump tweeted that his "thoughts and prayers" were with the pastor.

Brunson, 50, was arrested in 2016 as part of the government crackdown in the wake of a failed coup bid. He has been under house arrest since July.

Friday's court decision ends the friction over his case that caused a crisis in relations between the two NATO allies.

With Washington slapping sanctions on Ankara, the crisis also sparked a crash in the Turkish lira in August that exposed Turkey's economic fragility.

Galip Dalay, a visiting scholar at the University of Oxford, said that the release of Brunson removes a main source of tension in the relations between Washington and Ankara.

"The judgement opens the way for the two countries to cooperate further in and focus on the other areas of mutual interest such as the Syrian crisis and the case of Jamal Khashoggi," he said, referring to the Saudi writer and critic who disappeared earlier this month after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

"The US sanctions on Turkey are likely to be removed after this development as well."

The US evangelical preacher was accused of links with Kurdish rebels and supporters of Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey blamed for the failed coup attempt. Gulen has denied any involvement.

Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years, has denied the charges and maintained his innocence.

The US had maintained he was held unjustly and repeatedly called for his release.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted that he had no sway over the judiciary and that the courts would decide on Brunson's fate.[mr/aje]

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