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Oct 12 2018

U.S. military to fly Brunson home, Pentagon tells Reuters

The U.S. military is expected to fly American evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson back to the United States after a Turkish court ruled on Friday he could go free, Reuters reported on Friday.

Brunson was photographed leaving his home in Izmir on Friday night, hours after his release. Turkish press reported shortly afterwards that he had arrived at the airport.

Brunson leaving the airport
REUTERS/Osman Orsal

Brunson will fly through Germany on his way back to the United States, a Pentagon spokeswoman told Reuters, but did not specify a time.

A Turkish court sentenced Brunson on Friday to more than three years in prison on terrorism charges, but ruled he had already served his sentence after two years in detention and lifted a travel ban, meaning he can leave the country. 

The prosecutor has the right to appeal the sentence, but by that time Brunson is likely to be in the United States.

“There is a security risk for him [Brunson] here,” said Brunson’s lawyer after the hearing. “He will go when his plane is ready,” lawyer İsmail Cem Halavurt said.

“Brunson is trying to understand the situation, as he does not know the Turkish laws,” Halavurt said. “He understood and was very happy, when I told him that he was free.”

U.S. President Donald Trump posted a tweet around the same time the Turkish court announced its verdict. “My thoughts and prayers are with Pastor Brunson, and we hope to have him safely back home soon,” Trump said.

“Pastor Brunson just released. Will be home soon,” Trump said in his next tweet.

 

Brunson, however, is just one of the U.S. citizens held by Turkey that Trump's administration has demanded the release of, and U.S. Senator for Maryland Chris Van Hollen was among those determined to keep the pressure on Turkey.

Senator Bob Menendez, who helped draft legislation in July to respond to Turkey's arrest of Brunson and the other U.S. citizens and employees, was another U.S. lawmaker to echo Van Hollen's statement.

 

The Turkish Presidency’s Communications Director, Fahrettin Altun, said on Twitter that the court’s ruling on Friday proved the Turkish judiciary acted independently. Altun said that the U.S. government has tried to put pressure on Turkish judiciary and threatened Turkey with sanctions over the Brunson case. 

“We want to remind once again to U.S. President Donald Trump that Turkey is a democratic state of law and Turkish courts are independent, he said.

 

Three witnesses in the trial of American pastor Andrew Brunson have changed their previous testimonies. 

A CNN journalist following the Brunson trial said prosecution witnesses had withdrawn their previous testimonies.

A Turkish judge is not expected to acquit U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson in a latest hearing of his trial on terrorism charges, CNN Turk television reported.

The court will instead make an interim ruling, the news channel’s reporter at the court in the western city of Izmir said in a live broadcast. Such decisions in Turkey could mean an adjournment of the trial, or the release of Brunson pending his next hearing.

Brunson has been detained in Turkey since 2016 on terrorism charges. The United States is calling for his release and has imposed sanctions on the NATO member as his internment continues.

Witnesses for the prosecution are providing confusing and contradictory statements in Friday’s hearing, CNN reporter Ben Wedeman said in a separate statement. Three witnesses spoke for the prosecution, while the presiding judge also heard a witness from the defence in morning sessions, he said in a statement on Twitter.

Two defence witnesses will now be questioned.

The lira rose 0.5 percent to 5.89 per dollar at 2:17 p.m. in Istanbul, adding to gains made late on Thursday on speculation Brunson would be freed.

U.S. television channel NBC reported on Thursday that Brunson will be released and be allowed to return to the United States as part of a secret deal reached between Washington and Ankara.

The resolution of the Brunson problem will produce dramatic changes in U.S.-Turkish relations, Ilnur Çevik, an adviser to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said in an editorial for the Daily Sabah newspaper on Friday.