Turkey court frees U.S. pastor after two-year detention
13 October, 2018, 00:46 | Author: Bert Pena
The trial comes as Turkey and the United States are embroiled in another major diplomatic incident regarding a Saudi writer - US resident Jamal Khashoggi - who disappeared at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week. When the newly appointed prosecutor asked them about past statements they made asserting that a parishioner - a member of the blacklisted Kurdistan Workers Party - was building bombs, both men said that the statements were rumors they had heard from the other.
Brunson hugged his wife and shed tears of joy as he left the courtroom flanked by an American delegation.
Further moves which have been discussed include the return to Turkey of bank executive Mehmet Hakan Attila to serve out his sentence, the release of the U.S. consular staff, and agreement that the U.S. Treasury avoid draconian steps against Halkbank, the state lender.
Administrations officials have said Brunson's release "would be a significant step towards mending ties between the US and Turkey".
Pastor Brunson was facing up to 35 years in prison if convicted if convicted of espionage, but those charges were dropped Friday.
Mr Brunson and United States officials insisted he is innocent of all charges. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's communications director, Fahrettin Altun, repeated the president's stance that Turkey would not bow to threats of sanctions and said the court's ruling Friday proved the judiciary's independence.
Witnesses said Brunson wept as the decision was announced.
He also voiced gratitude to Donald Trump, saying "My entire family thanks the president, the administration, and Congress for their unwavering support".
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While Brunson was detained, the Trump administration made sure Turkey knew the US meant business by imposing tariffs on Turkish imports and slapping financial sanctions on the country, putting a noticeable dent on the Turkish economy.
Khashoggi contributed columns to the Post, including some critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who the the current USA administration has courted as an ally. "Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time!"
A USA pastor has left Turkey after more than two years in detention in a case that badly strained ties with the US.
The American pastor is charged with links to Kurdish militants and supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the cleric blamed by Turkey for a failed coup attempt in 2016. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence had, in recent months, joined the call for Turkey to release Brunson.
The hearing saw two key witnesses recanting much of their testimony against Brunson, which called into question the testimony provided by Levent Kalkan, a former member of Brunson's church who was relied heavily upon by the prosecution.
Sources told NBC that negotiations regarding Brunson's release between Turkish and USA officials - which included Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton - were "advanced in discussions" in September at the UN General Assembly.
Brunson led a small congregation in the Izmir Resurrection Church.
As a columnist for the Washington Post , Khashoggi has criticized Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for his policies. Diplomats said that so far no country has raised the issue of Khashoggi's disappearance before the UN Security Council.
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