Citing the pastor’s health problems as the reason, a Turkish court today ordered that Andrew Brunson be moved from prison to house arrest.
Brunson still faces 35 years in prison after the regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan swept up the longtime Turkey resident, along with several other Americans, in his post-coup purges. Since July 15, 2016, the Turkish government has arrested 80,147 people on muddled charges of being tied to Fethullah Gülen, a Pennsylvania-based moderate political foe of Erdoğan. As the regime has raised the topic of seeking Gülen’s extradition with the U.S. government, it’s believed the Americans have been detained as potential swap leverage.
Brunson and his wife, Norine, raised their family in Turkey and ministered through the Protestant Izmir Resurrection Church in the Aegean coast city. In October 2016, after living in the country for 23 years, they found a note on their door telling them to report to the migration management office for what they thought would be a visit connected to their visa renewal. Instead, officials detained the couple. They did not shut down the church, which has continued operating under one of Brunson’s ministry partners, or arrest other members.
Norine was eventually released and allowed to stay in the country. The pastor, though, was sent to jail in December 2016 on a hazy accusation of “membership in an armed terrorist organization.”
The indictment released in March charges that Brunson is linked to both the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) and Gülen, whom Erdoğan blames for the July 2016 coup attempt. Prosecutors want Brunson to serve 20 years for espionage and 15 years for “committing crimes on behalf of terror organizations without being a member.”
“I have never done anything against Turkey. I love Turkey. I have been praying for Turkey for 25 years. I want the truth to come out,” Brunson told the court in fluent Turkish at an April hearing.
“I do not accept the charges mentioned in the indictment. I have never been involved in any illegal activities,” he said. Brunson also denied that he spoke in favor of Kurdish independence or aided the PKK.
In May, Turkish state media reported that a secret witness described as a former member of the church has been claiming that Brunson funneled assistance to Kurds.
The Second High Penal Court in the western province of İzmir rejected a week ago Brunson’s plea for release. The same court relented today and let him be moved back to his home. His next hearing is scheduled for Oct. 12.
The Erdoğan regime has also detained a NASA scientist working on the U.S. mission to Mars, Serkan Gölge, who was visiting his parents in Turkey in July 2016 when he was arrested in the regime’s engulfing post-coup sweeps. Gölge, a U.S. citizen, was recently sentenced to 7.5 years in prison.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CBN last week that it was “time for Pastor Brunson to return home and to be free.”
“We have worked diligently. The president personally has worked diligently on this issue,” Pompeo said, adding that Brunson’s case “is very much a focus of the team that I lead here at the State Department, and we’re optimistic that in the days and weeks ahead we’ll get a good outcome for Pastor Brunson, his family, and frankly for many of those that are held in places around the world.”
The administration has not publicly mentioned Gölge.
The American Center for Law & Justice, which has been representing Brunson, called the house arrest news a “major development.”
“We have confirmed that the Turkish government has issued an order releasing Pastor Andrew from prison and allowing him to be returned to his home in Turkey,” wrote ACLJ’s Jay Sekulow in a statement. “This is a critical first step that we believe will result in the freedom of Pastor Andrew so he can return to the United States and be reunited with his family.”