Recently freed pastor Andrew Brunson said Tuesday that he believed he could be "the most hated man in Turkey," because of the accusations leveled against him by the Turkish government. Brunson has insisted that he is innocent of these charges.
What's Brunson's story?
On Friday, a Turkish court released Brunson from custody. He had been arrested in 2016 and charged with being involved in a failed coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and of having ties to the PKK, a Kurdish militant group. Brunson has firmly denied all charges, and his supporters have insisted that they are fabricated. He was moved from prison to house arrest in July, due to health issues.
He was eventually convicted and sentenced to three years in prison. This was reduced to two years time served for good behavior, and he was released from house arrest.
After his release, Brunson was flown to the United States, where he visited the White House.
What did Brunson say?
Even if U.S. authorities did not take the accusations against Brunson seriously, Brunson believes that many people in Turkey did.
"At this point I’m one of the most hated men in Turkey, probably," he said during an interview with "Good Morning America" host George Stephanopoulos, "because I was accused of spying, as well as being part of the attempt to overthrow the government, and supporting Kurdish terrorists."
He also said that he was blamed for the impact on the economy caused by U.S. sanctions.
Brunson insisted that he was not guilty of these crimes, and that he was not involved in anything political.
"Our purpose in going to Turkey was to tell people about Jesus Christ. We did that very openly, and we were never involved in anything political," he said.
Brunson had been in Turkey for more than 20 years before his arrest. He said that the arrest caught him and his wife completely off guard.
We were actually shocked. We were arrested on our oldest son's birthday. And this was for deportation. Then we were told that we were being arrested because we were a threat for national security, and within a very short time it became clear to us that this was unusual. We weren't allowed to see a consular official. We were kept, my wife and I, for 13 days with no contact with the outside. And it just kept extending and extending. So we were really shocked, because we spent 23 years telling people about Jesus in Turkey, we did this very openly, and we had never had a problem.