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Court rejects US pastor’s appeal against house arrest, travel ban

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A Turkish high criminal court on Tuesday rejected an appeal filed by the lawyer of American pastor Andrew Brunson, who was transferred from pretrial detention to house arrest last week, demanding the pastor be fully freed.

The İzmir 2nd High Criminal Court on July 25 ruled to move Brunson from pretrial detention, in which he had been held since October 2016, to house arrest in İzmir but barred him from leaving the premises or the country.

Brunson’s lawyer said in his petition that “the pastor cannot totally make use of his freedom and return to his daily life,” underlining that he cannot exercise his freedom of belief nor carry out his religious duties.

However, the İzmir 2nd High Criminal Court rejected the lawyer’s appeal and ruled for the continuation of Brunson’s house arrest and travel ban.

The İzmir court’s ruling has deepened a diplomatic crisis between Washington and Ankara, with both US President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence threatening Turkey with “large sanctions” until Brunson is fully released.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sunday defied Washington’s threat, saying Turkey would not retreat in the face of pressure and comparing the situation to US-imposed sanctions on Iran.

Hours after Erdoğan’s statement US Vice President Pence reiterated a threat to Ankara that Washington would impose sanctions on Turkey if Brunson is not freed.

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.”

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 outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as well as the group inspired by Gülen. The Gülen movement strongly denies any involvement in the abortive putsch.

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.

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