ALIAGA, Turkey — A Turkish court on Friday convicted an American pastor on terror charges but released him from house arrest and allowed him to leave the country, a move that’s likely to ease tensions between Turkey and the United States.

The court near the western city of Izmir sentenced Andrew Brunson to 3 years, 1 month and 15 days in prison for allegedly helping terror groups. But since the evangelical pastor had already spent nearly two years in detention, Turkish law allowed him to remain free with time served.

The earlier charge of espionage against him was dropped.

Brunson, a native of North Carolina whose detention had sparked a diplomatic dispute between the two NATO allies, had rejected the espionage and terror-related charges and strongly maintained his innocence.

The 50-year-old native of North Carolina had faced up to 35 years in jail if convicted of all the charges. With tears in his eyes, he hugged his wife Norine Lyn as he awaited the decision Friday.

Lawyer Ismail Cem Halavurt said Brunson was expected to leave Turkey for the U.S., but it was not clear when. His lawyer said the electronic ankle bracelet for monitoring was removed. Brunson was seen going back to his home in Izmir from the court.

President Donald J. Trump tweeted he was praying for Brunson and announced his release, saying “WILL BE HOME SOON!”

Washington had repeatedly called for Brunson’s release and in August had slapped sanctions on Turkey.

But a top Turkish official criticized Trump’s tweet and American pressures for the pastor’s release. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s communications director Fahrettin Altun repeated the president’s message that Turkey would not bow to threats of sanctions and said the court’s ruling proved the judiciary’s independence.

Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, was one of thousands caught up in a widespread government crackdown that followed a failed coup against the Turkish government in July 2016.

He was accused of committing crimes on behalf of terror groups and of alleged links to outlawed Kurdish militants and a network led by a U.S.-based Turkish cleric who is accused of orchestrating the coup attempt.

“I am an innocent man. I love Jesus. I love Turkey,” Brunson told the court Friday, speaking in Turkish.

Earlier, the court called two witnesses following tips from witness Levent Kalkan, who at a previous hearing had accused Brunson of aiding terror groups. The new witnesses did not confirm Kalkan’s accusations. Another witness …read more

Source:: Deseret News – U.S. & World News

      

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Turkish court convicts U.S. pastor of terror yet frees him

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