An American pastor who's been imprisoned in Turkey for alleged "espionage" is being released and allowed to return to his home there, while still under house arrest.
Pastor Andrew Brunson, who is from North Carolina, had been incarcerated for 21 months in Turkey because of his Christian faith. As recently as last week, it appeared he would be held in prison until his next court date in October. He had been on trial for the crime of "Christianization."
"[Pastor Brunson's release] was something that no one saw coming, but it is a very welcome move because this gives [him] an opportunity to heal mentally, spiritually, [and] physically from his time in prison – and hopefully this signals a positive step forward in this case as well."
"... Turkish state media, the propaganda arm of the Turkish government, has been reporting that this decision was because of his health. Whether that's the case or just propaganda ... by the Turkish media, it does seem likely because he does have a history of his health declining in prison."
"I am cautiously optimistic that this is a good, positive step forward in this case. But if you look at the history of how the Turkish authorities deal with this and other cases, they may say positive things but then they backtrack quickly."
Claire Evans, regional manager
International Christian Concern
But the American Center for Law and Justice – which has been working on both sides of the Atlantic to secure his release – announced today that Turkish authorities have ordered that the evangelical pastor be released from prison and be allowed to return to his home in Turkey.
"This is a critical first step that we believe will result in the freedom of Pastor Brunson so he can return to the United States and be reunited with his family," says ACLJ chief counsel Jay Sekulow in a press release. "The President has played a critical role in securing the freedom of Pastor Brunson. We have worked closely with the President on this matter and are grateful for his efforts. We look forward to the ultimate release of Pastor Brunson."
The Associated Press reports Brunson will be under house arrest as his trial continues - and that he was released due to unspecified "health problems."
Brunson, 50, had faced up to 35 years in prison for allegedly "committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member" and for "espionage" – charges that he strongly denied. He has lived in Turkey for 23 years and served as pastor of Ismir Resurrection Church.
7/26/2018 - More comments from Claire Evans added.