USA pastor Brunson released by Turkish court, set to fly home

North Carolina Pastor Andrew Brunson Reportedly Set to be Released by Turkish Government

"President Trump and his team have been tenacious in seeking the release of Pastor Brunson", Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ said."We're grateful to the president, members of Congress and diplomatic leaders who continued to put pressure on Turkey to secure the freedom of Pastor Brunson". Prosecutors had sought a 35-year sentence. His wife Norine watched from the visitors' seating area as he listened to testimony from defence and prosecution witnesses. The pastor, who denies all charges against him, had previously been imprisoned.

In July 2018 he was released from prison for health reasons and moved to house arrest until his trial.

After his release, Donald Trump said Brunson would soon be back in the United States.

The case has been at the center of deteriorating relations between Turkey and the United States, heightened by President Donald Trump's defense of Brunson as his administration elevated religious freedom as a cause.

An American evangelical Christian pastor at the centre of a row between Ankara and Washington looked set to fly home on Friday after a Turkish court freed him, a move that may signal a step towards mending ties between the allies.

Mr Brunson and United States officials insisted he is innocent of all charges.

Turkey has good financial and strategic reasons to release the American, analysts say, including the threat of further USA sanctions related to Brunson, and its purchases of Russian weaponry and Iranian oil. "I am also grateful that President Trump, Vice President Pence, Secretary Pompeo, Ambassador Brownback, Senator Tillis, and other USA officials refused to take "no" for an answer for this man's release".

The court's decision failed to improve tensions between the two North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies and Washington slapped sanctions on two Turkish officials and doubled tariff on Turkish steel and aluminum imports.

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After the ruling, Mr Brunson's lawyer told reporters the pastor was likely to leave Turkey. The day before the hearing, Jeffrey Hovenier, the chargé d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, visited his home, staying for about 45 minutes.

The ACLJ said the development is "a significant victory for Pastor Brunson and his family".

Brunson was held for two years in Turkey, convicted of terror-related charges over his alleged links to exiled US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Officials have hoped Brunson's release could serve as a catalyst for improving ties between Turkey and the U.S. Turkey has played a role in the fight against Islamic State in neighboring Syria and has the second-biggest military in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The American Center for Law and Justice had been working in the US and overseas to secure Brunson's release. Though he was convicted of terror charges by a Turkish court, he was released from house arrest and allowed to leave Turkey.

A ban on Brunson traveling out of Turkey and an order for house detention were also lifted, meaning the pastor is free. "I love Jesus. I love Turkey", Brunson told the court Friday, speaking in Turkish.

According to a report on NBC News, the agreement was reached "recently", and the release is expected to come after a Friday hearing in Turkey's top court leads to the dropping of espionage charges against Brunson.

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