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Washington vows to press Ankara until Brunson is ‘fully released’

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The US administration has announced that it will not stop pressing Turkey until Pastor Andrew Brunson, who was put under house arrest after two years in pre-trial detention on Wednesday, is “fully released.”

The İzmir 2nd High Criminal Court on Wednesday decided to allow Brunson, who was jailed in October 2016 on espionage and terror charges, to stay at his home in İzmir 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.

“Spoke by phone w/ Pastor Andrew Brunson after his release from prison in Turkey. While out of prison, this man of faith is still under house arrest. Assured him @POTUS [US President Donald Trump] & our entire Admin will keep working to secure his full release & get him back to the USA #FreePastorBrunson,” Vice President Mike Pence tweeted on Thursday.

“.@POTUS & I made clear last week and have worked tirelessly for months to free Pastor Andrew Brunson. He should have been freed long ago. He’s now under house arrest—but we won’t stop until he’s fully released and reunited with his family, friends, and church. #FreeAndrewBrunson,” said Pence in another Twitter message on Wednesday.

Pence did not elaborate how he and Trump “made it clear,” but Steven A. Cook, a senior fellow for Middle East & Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, claimed that the US president threatened Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

“I am hearing that Pres Trump threatened Erdogan, telling him that Congressional action on the F-35 would be the least of his worries if Brunson wasn’t released. #Turkey,” Cook tweeted on Wednesday.

Trump on July 18 urged Erdoğan to release Brunson, 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.

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

Turkish 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.

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