A Turkish court on Friday convicted American pastor Andrew Brunson of terrorism charges but ordered his release from house arrest, a decision that will allow him to return back to the U.S.
During a court hearing, four government witnesses retracted their statements that Brunson had aided two organizations, the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, and the network of supporters of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Brunson, 50, was arrested in October 2016 on claims that he supported the two groups. He was sentenced to three years in jail on Friday but released due to time served. The Turkish court also relaxed a travel ban against Brunson, allowing the North Carolina native to return home. (RELATED: Report: White House Struck Secret Deal With Turkey To Release Jailed American Pastor)
Brunson and his wife had operated Christian churches in Turkey for 23 years until his arrest.
Brunson case touched off a bitter diplomatic dispute between the U.S. and Turkey. The Trump administration pushed its Nato ally to release Brunson, arguing that the charges against him were bogus. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected those requests, saying publicly that he was using Brunson as a bargaining chip to force the U.S. to extradite Gulen, who is living in exile in Pennsylvania.
Turkeys President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Trump at the 72nd United Nations General Assembly on September 21, 2017 in New York City. (Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
The Trump administration believed back in July that it had secured Brunsons release following negotiations with Turkish counterparts. President Trump reportedly thought he had struck a deal with Erdogan by securing the release of a Turkish woman from an Israeli jail. But the Turkish court trying Brunson merely ordered him removed from jail and placed under house arrest.
Fridays hearing was the fourth for Brunson this year.
The government witnesses who retracted their testimony against Brunson said Friday that they heard the information either from the press or from each other.
According to Aykan Erdemir, a former member of the Turkish parliament who has followed the Brunson case closely, said that one witness claimed he read the allegations in the press. The other said he was misunderstood by the judge, and two more claimed that they first heard the allegations against Brunson from each other.
Of the four witnesses who earlier testified against Pastor #AndrewBrunson, one claims reading the allegations in the news, another says he was misunderstood by the judge, and the last two claim that they first heard the allegations from one another. What a travesty of justice!
— Aykan Erdemir (@aykan_erdemir) October 12, 2018
Erdemir, who is now a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said that the recanted testimony shows that Brunson was framed and used by the Turkish government and used as a bargaining chip.
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