Turkey should release Pastor Brunson immediately – State Dept.

Turkey should release Pastor Andrew Brunson from custody “now”, the U.S. State Department said, repeating a warning that the country faces sanctions should it fail to do so.

Brunson is innocent and his release is “long overdue”, U.S. State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters in Washington D.C. on Tuesday.

The United States has had numerous conversations with Turkey about the very real risk of sanctions for the government, Nauert said.

“In terms of precise sanctions or forecasting exact sanctions, that I’m not going to be able to do,” she said.

Brunson, who has worked for more than two decades at a church in Izmir in Western Turkey, was placed under house arrest last month, ending a period of over 18 months in jail on charges of terrorism. He was arrested following a failed military coup in July 2016. Local media reports accuse Brunson of working for the Central Intelligence Agency and he is charged with collaborating with groups including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Fethullah Gulen movement, which Turkey blames for the coup attempt.

The U.S. government was also working hard to bring home three locally employed consular staff, Nauert said. Claims that the United States had not been advocating for their release were “flat-out untrue”, she said.

“We’ve had lots of engagements with our – with Turkish counterparts about getting our locally employed staff out of prison as well, despite what you may have read in the papers,” she said.

“We would like to bring our people home and get our people out of jail.  I will be limited in terms of what I can say about the situation there.  It is obviously very delicate.”

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