ALIAGA, Turkey – A Turkish court sentenced US pastor Andrew Brunson of support for terrorism on Friday, but sentenced him to just time and ordered his immediate release.
The fall of the evangelical preacher who was caught in the security check of Turkey after the coup d'état had caught the attention of the highest levels of the American government and became a sore point in the relations between the two countries.
Within minutes of the verdict, President Trump tweeted "very hard to Pastor Brunson."
While the pastor was convicted of terrorism and sentenced to three years in prison, the judge reduced him to two years of good behavior. He also lifted the house arrest so that Brunson could leave the country.
Brunson's trial resumed Friday in western Turkey, where he led a small evangelical church just hours after US officials said they had reached an agreement with the Turkish authorities
Brunson, 50, turned two He had long held on to what he and the Trump administration had described as false accusations of terrorism and espionage. Prosecutors accused the pastor of being associated with both Kurdish separatists and US Muslim clerics. Turkish authorities claim to have orchestrated a failed coup attempt in 2016.
Brunson was released on grounds of ill health in July due to house arrest deepen a divide between Turkey and the United States, which are already arguing over the support of Kurdish-led fighters against the Islamic State in Syria.
Vice President Pence has been particularly interested in Brunson's case and mobilized Trump's evangelical political base
In recent months, the government has made Brunson's release a priority, and in August the United States imposed sanctions on two senior Turkish cabinet ministers to pressure the authorities here.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had said his government could not interfere in a court case. But US officials said Thursday that an agreement was negotiated between the two sides over the release of Brunson on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last month.
The deal, she said, would involve the lifting of US sanctions in exchange for lower fees, allowing Brunson to either sentence for time or serve a remaining sentence in the United States.
Turkish prosecutors had applied for a 35-year prison sentence for Brunson, accusing them of spying on terrorists under the guise of humanitarian aid and supporting interreligious dialogue. This application was later shortened to ten years in the process.
He was involved in the wave of arrests following the botched military coup in 2016, which left tens of thousands of people – including artists, intellectuals and ordinary Turks – arrested. But the prosecutor also alleged that he supported members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which had led a decade-long uprising against the Turkish state.
The PKK is a strictly secular and leftist organization. In the indictment of Brunson, a witness is quoted as saying that the parishioners in Brunson's Resurrection Church in Izmir Province wore the "flags and pennants of the PKK terrorist organization."
However, at the court in Izmir's Aliaga district, a number of prosecution witnesses A witness, Levent Kalkan, said the investigators had misunderstood his original testimony that had led Brunson in 2016 to house coup suspects.
The man who made this statement by videoconference revealed isolated and sometimes contradictory statements Kalkan said refugee protection appeared in court on Friday to say he did not see it.
"I never told Levent," said witness Yilmaz Demirjan.
Brunson, who was sitting alone in front of a jury, and the prosecutor was also allowed to testify according to the testimony of each witness.
"I never met PKK fighters," he said to Judg in Turkish.
Brunson said in his final statement in court shortly before the verdict, "I'm an innocent man, I love Jesus, I love this land" and burst into tears.