A Turkish court has released US pastor Andrew Brunson, who was jailed for alleged terror links following 2016’s failed coup attempt. Brunson’s arrest has soured US-Turkish relations, with Trump pushing for his release.
Charged with terrorism offences, the court handed down a sentence of 3 years and 1-1/2 month sentence for the evangelical Christian pastor on Friday. Despite the verdict, the court also ruled that the US man would not serve any further time as he had already been detained by authorities since October 2016.
Prior to the judge’s ruling, Brunson told the could that he was “an innocent man” adding: “I love Jesus, I love Turkey.” Reuters reports that Brunson wept as the court’s decision was announced.
Following a failed coup attempt in 2016, the North Carolina native was charged with links to Kurdish militants and supporters of Fethullah Gulen – the man blamed for the attempted coup. Brunson has repeatedly denied the accusations made against him, and his lawyer has commented outside of the Turkish court that his client will appeal his conviction.
Brunson has already returned from court to his home in Izmir. It is understood that a private plane awaits for the Brunson at Izmir’s Cigli Airport to whisk him back to the US.
Since his 2016 arrest, Brunson has stood at the centre of a diplomatic row between Turkey and the US, as NATO allies sparred bitterly over the pastor’s imprisonment. Branson’s release could be the first step to mending relations between the two countries.
Brunson’s imprisonment led to U.S. tariffs against Turkey and drawn condemnation from President Donald Trump, who frequently lashed out at Ankara over the US man’s detainment. In the minutes following the judge’s court decision, Trump took to Twitter to declare that he is “working very hard on Pastor Brunson”.