Release International is delighted that Pastor Andrew Brunson (pictured) has at last been released in Turkey, where he has been held on terrorism charges. According to news reports, Pastor Brunson, who has denied the charges, will soon be heading back to the United States.
President Trump, who has been active in pressing for Andrew Brunson to be set free, tweeted: ‘Pastor Brunson just released. Will be home soon!’
Andrew Brunson, who is 50, is from North Carolina and has a wife and three children. He was arrested in October 2016 and sentenced to just over three years’ imprisonment on charges relating to the failed coup in Turkey in 2016.
Before today’s ruling, he is said to have told the court: ‘I am an innocent man. I love Jesus, I love Turkey.’ He is said to have wept when the decision was announced.
Earlier, witnesses admitted their testimonies had been inaccurate, and Pastor Brunson protested that the judge had been describing events that bore no relation to him.
It is believed to be intervention by President Trump, the imposition of tariffs, and diplomatic pressure that has persuaded Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to release the pastor.
Pastor Brunson has lived in Turkey for 23 years and leads the small Protestant Izmir Resurrection Church. His wife, Norine, was originally arrested with him, but later released.
Brunson had been charged in effect with being an American spy and taking part in the failed coup attempt in 2016. The prosecution claimed he was a supporter of the exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen who has been blamed for the coup. Andrew Brunson was rounded up along with some 50,000 others, including soldiers, teachers and journalists. All were said to have been connected in some way to the imam who is living in Pennsylvania.
If Pastor Brunson had been found guilty on spying charges he would have faced 35 years in prison. He was charged on a basis of secret evidence which had never been tested in court. All of the witnesses in his defence were dismissed by the judge without even hearing them.
Pastor Brunson has completely denied the spying charges and describes them as ‘shameful and disgusting’.
He told the Reuters news agency there was no concrete evidence against him and that he was in jail as an innocent man. As one of Christ’s disciples he was there to suffer in Jesus’ name. He said, ‘My faith teaches me to forgive, so I forgive those who testified against me.’
A US pastor who attended one of the hearings, Bill Campbell, described Andrew Brunson’s testimony as ‘absolutely powerful’. He said he presented the gospel with confidence and defended himself with boldness.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has described his case as a miscarriage ‘dominated by wild conspiracies, tortured logic, and secret witnesses, but without any real evidence to speak of’.