Turkish court moves US cleric Brunson from jail to house arrest

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This undated photo made available by the Dogan News Agency on March 13, 2018 shows Andrew Brunson, an American pastor, in Izmir. AFP PHOTO / DHA / STR / Turkey OUT

A Turkish court on Wednesday released from prison American pastor Andrew Brunson, who was jailed in October 2016 on espionage and terror charges, putting him under house arrest due to “health problems,” the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

The Izmir 2nd High Criminal Court decided to allow Brunson to live at his home in Izmir but barred him from “abandonment of residence” and also imposed a ban on him leaving the country.

The same court last week ruled to keep Brunson, who faces 35 years, in jail, setting the next hearing for Oct. 12.

The court’s most recent decision came days after six US senators introduced bipartisan legislation to restrict loans from international financial institutions to Turkey “until the Turkish government ends the unjust detention of US citizens.”

According to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations statement, the bill, known as the Turkey International Financial Institutions Act, directs the US executive of the World Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to oppose future loans, except for humanitarian purposes, to Turkey.

US President Donald Trump on July 18 urged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to release Brunson, who has been in prison in Turkey for nearly two years, calling his continued detention a “total disgrace.”

“A total disgrace that Turkey will not release a respected U.S. Pastor, Andrew Brunson, from prison. He has been held hostage far too long. @RT_Erdogan should do something to free this wonderful Christian husband & father. He has done nothing wrong, and his family needs him!” Trump tweeted.

Erdoğan in September had called on Washington to swap Brunson for Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish Muslim cleric living in self-imposed exile in the US who Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government accuse of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016:

“Some people are trying to divide us, crush us. But they will not be able to divide this nation and country, they will not be able to demolish it. They want a pastor [Andrew Brunson] from us, you have a pastor [Fethullah Gülen], too. Extradite him so that we can prosecute him.”

Prosecutors accuse Brunson of activities on behalf of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as well as the group inspired by Gülen. The Gülen movement strongly denies any involvement in the abortive putsch.

Two members of the US Senate, Lindsey Graham and Jeanne Shaheen, paid a previously undisclosed visit to the Turkish capital on June 29 to meet with President Erdoğan in a direct appeal for Brunson’s release.

President Trump in a tweet in April urged the Turkish government to free pastor Brunson, while 66 US senators signed a letter urging Erdoğan to release the American pastor.

Brunson, a North Carolina native, has been in custody since October 2016 after he and his wife were detained on immigration violation charges. At the time, the Brunsons were running a small Christian church in İzmir. They had lived in Turkey for 23 years.

The pro-Erdoğan Takvim daily accused Brunson of being behind the coup attempt, claiming that he would have become the CIA chief if the coup attempt had been successful.

According to Takvim, Brunson is a “high-level CIA agent” and also a “high-level member of the Gülen movement.”

The arrest of the pastor has paralyzed CIA operations in Turkey, according to the article, and the US has been exerting all efforts to save him.

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