Turkish court releases American pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been held since 2016

Turkish court releases American pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been held since 2016
A car carrying Norine Brunson, wife of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson, arrives at the Aliaga Prison Court ahead of his court hearing Friday in Izmir, Turkey. Andrew Brunson was convicted on terrorism charges but the judge also released Brunson from house arrest, allowing him to leave the country. Brunson's case has been a source of tension between the two countries and triggered U.S. sanctions and tariffs to be imposed on Turkey. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

A Turkish court has ordered the release of pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been held in Turkish custody since 2016 when he was arrested on terror charges. Brunson had insisted that he is innocent.

What’s the background?

Brunson is a North Carolina native with wife and three kids who pastored a Presbyterian church in Turkey. He was arrested in 2016 and charged with being involved in a failed coup against the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. After the coup fell apart, Erdogan’s government arrested more than 50,000 people for their alleged involvement in it.

He was also accused of having ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Kurdish militant group inside Turkey. While other Kurdish groups have proven to be invaluable allies to the U.S. in its fight against the Islamic State, the U.S. has designated the PKK as a terror group for its violent tactics.

Brunson and his supporters say that the charges against him have been fabricated.

In July, Brunson had been moved from a Turkish prison to house arrest due to health issues.

In August, a Turkish court denied an appeal from Brunson to be released from house arrest while his trial was pending. At the time, he was facing the prospect of up to 35 years in prison.

On Friday, Brunson was convicted on terrorism charges and sentenced to three years in prison. However, the judge ruled that Brunson’s sentence could be released to two years time served for good behavior. The judge also released Brunson from house arrest, allowing him to leave the country.

What did President Trump say?

On Friday morning, President Donald Trump tweeted “Working very hard on Pastor Brunson!”

After Brunson’s release was announced, President Donald Trump tweeted in all capital letters, “PASTOR BRUNSON JUST RELEASED. WILL BE HOME SOON!”

In July, Trump had threatened to hit Turkey with “large sanctions” if it failed to release Brunson. Vice President Mike Pence also called for Erdogan to release Brunson “or be prepared to face the consequences.”