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Turkish court releases American pastor from house arrest  8 Months ago

Source:   USA Today  

WASHINGTON - A Turkish court on Friday released American pastor Andrew Brunson after more than two years of detention in a case that caused a deep rift in U.S.-Turkey relations and was sharply criticized by the Trump administration.

Brunson, a Christian missionary who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, was arrested in 2016 and accused of plotting to overthrow the government of Turkey, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He had rejected the allegations.

President Donald Trump had clashed with Erdogan over Brunson’s case – going so far as to slap sanctions and tariffs on Turkey earlier this year to pressure the Turkish leader.

“We’re very honored to have him back with us," Trump said after landing in Ohio for a campaign rally on Friday. "He suffered greatly.”

Trump told reporters that Brunson would be visiting the White House on Saturday, saying the U.S. pastor had left Turkey and was stopping in Germany for a medical examination before continuing his trip to the United States.

Trump said “no deal” was made with Turkish officials to secure Brunson’s release.

“We’re very happy to have him … I hear he’s in very good shape,” said Trump.

Trump started off his Friday night rally with the news of Brunson's release and used it as a chance to showcase the other successes his administration has had with releasing Americans held abroad in North Korea, Egypt and Venezuela. 

"We bring a lot of people back and that's good," the president said. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised Brunson and his family for their “bravery and faith” and the work of Trump and several senators for securing Brunson’s release from detention.

“I hope the conclusion of this ugly episode will mark a turning point toward better days for the important relationship between the United States and Turkey,” McConnell said in a statement.

Laura Brunson, the pastor’s sister, told Fox News that all the charges brought against her brother were “false” and that his family is “just glad it’s over.”

 “It’s been a rollercoaster ride,” she said. “We are overjoyed right now, but it just doesn’t still doesn’t seem quite real.”

Brunson is not the only U.S. citizen detained in Turkey, but he has gained the most attention in part because of his ties to the American evangelical community. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have become personally involved in pressing for his release. 

Groups promoting global freedom and protections of Christians applauded Brunson’s release and Trump’s intervention.

“The president has rightly recognized that economic leverage can help bring positive change for human rights and can convey a powerful message of solidarity with oppressed religious minorities, especially persecuted Christians,” said David Curry, president of Open Doors USA in a statement. “In this case, it worked and was helpful in the release of an American Christian.”

Brunson, who has family roots in North Carolina, has been under house arrest with his wife Norine – forbidden from leaving his guarded apartment in Izmir, a city on Turkey's southwest coast.

Brunson previously served 20 months in a Turkish jail. He could have faced up to 35 years in prison. His supporters have said the charges against him are absurd.

"He is not an armed terrorist trying to overthrow any government," Brunson’s daughter, Jacqueline Brunson Furnari, said at a July 24 State Department forum on human rights and religious freedom. "... Every single thing in his life is centered on his faith."

Before his arrest, Andrew Brunson and his wife a tended to a small congregation at their Resurrection Church in Izmir, a city of 4.2 million people that's nearly twice as large as Houston. They spent years ministering to Christians in a country where Islam is the religion followed by the vast majority of Turks.

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