Pastor Andrew Brunson, who has spent nearly two years in Turkish prisons after he was accused of aiding a terrorist group, has left prison and been placed under house arrest. Brunson’s lawyer and family confirmed the news, with his lawyer telling the BBC that Brunson will wear an ankle monitor. Turkish Hürriyet Daily News also reports that Brunson is also forbidden from leaving Turkey while under house arrest.
Brunson left prison at around 5:30 pm local time, according to EPConnection, and the move to house arrest has been greeted with cautious optimism by numerous U.S. government officials. In a Tweet, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “We welcome long overdue news that Pastor Brunson has been moved from prison to house arrest in Turkey, but it is not enough. We have seen no credible evidence against Mr. Brunson, and call on Turkish authorities to resolve his case immediately in a transparent and fair manner.”
Aykan Erdemir, a former member of Turkey’s parliament and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, confirmed to World Watch Monitor that Brunson will remain in pre-trial house arrest until his next hearing, which is scheduled on October 12.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga, who attended the hearing where Brunson was put under house arrest, welcomed his release from prison but said more needed to be done.
“This is welcome news,” she said. “It is good that Pastor Brunson will have some relief after being held in a Turkish prison for more than 600 days. But it is not enough. The Turkish government has deprived this innocent man of his due process rights and liberty for too long, and it must completely release him. If it fails to do so, the Trump Administration and the Congress should respond strongly and swiftly with targeted sanctions against the authorities responsible.”
Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for 23 years, has been on trial for terrorism and spying charges—of having links with the Fethullah Gülen movement, which the Ankara government blames for the failed July 2016 coup attempt, and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Brunson has denied the accusations repeatedly, and most Western observers reject the charges.
According to Reuters, Brunson, the pastor of a small church in Izmir, told the court at last week’s hearing: “It is really hard to stay in jail and be separated from my wife and children.” “There is no concrete evidence against me,” Reuters quoted Brunson as saying. “The disciples of Jesus suffered in his name, now it is my turn. I am an innocent man on all these charges. I reject them. I know why I am here. I am here to suffer in Jesus’s name.”
The court heard testimony from four witnesses: three for the prosecution, and one for the defense. For nearly two hours, former church members testified against Pastor Brunson, making vague, unsubstantiated accusations. When the judge asked Brunson to reply to the witnesses, he said: “My faith teaches me to forgive, so I forgive those who testified against me.” Despite hopes he would be released, the court ruled against him at that time.
Open Doors CEO David Curry says, “As I attend the State Department’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom this week, it is inspiring to feel renewed excitement for Pastor Brunson as we heard first-hand from his daughter Jacqueline last night. My hope is the U.S. government will leverage this movement to put an end to the public persecution of an innocent man.”
Open Doors joins millions of Christians worldwide in praying for and calling for Pastor Brunson’s full release. Add your thoughts and prayers to our prayer wall >>