Andrew Brunson, the American pastor who has been imprisoned in Turkey for nearly two years without evidence on terror and espionage charges, will be moved to house arrest, according to a Turkish newspaper.
In the bill, lawmakers demand the release of Brunson as well as any other “U.S. citizens wrongfully or unlawfully detained in Turkey.”
The Daily Sabah said the Second High Penal Court in Izmir ordered Wednesday that Brunson be moved to his home in Izmir due to “health issues.”
The court also imposed a ban on Brunson leaving the country.
The same court on July 18 ordered that Brunson remain imprisoned until an Oct. 12 hearing.
“We are very thankful for this court ruling to allow Andrew to be detained at his house instead of behind bars, where he has spent more than 21 months,” said Jeff Jeremiah, the stated clerk, or overseer, of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Brunson’s denomination.
“At the same time, this trial is not over. He is still facing serious charges so we press on in praying, fasting and advocating for Andrew,” Jeremiah said.
Brunson, 50, who has lived in Turkey since 1993, was arrested in October 2016. He later was charged, despite no evidence, of having links to Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish cleric that Ankara blames for the failed coup attempt in 2016. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison for “committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member” and an additional 20 years for “espionage.”
President Trump, in a tweet last week, called Turkey’s prosecution of Brunson “a total disgrace.”
“He has done nothing wrong, and his family needs him!”
The American Center for Law and Justice, which represents Brunson’s family, called the move Wednesday “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.”
ACLJ said Trump “has played a critical role in securing the freedom of Pastor Andrew.”
“We have worked closely with the president on this matter and are grateful for his efforts. We look forward to the ultimate release of Pastor Andrew.”
Move to house arrest ‘not enough’
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent panel established by Congress, also welcomed the news but said “it’s not enough.”
“The Turkish government has deprived this innocent man of his due process rights and liberty for too long, and it must completely release him,” said Kristina Arriaga, USCIRF’s vice chairman.
“If it fails to do so, the Trump administration and the Congress should respond strongly and swiftly with targeted sanctions against the authorities responsible,” she said.
Along with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence has called for Brunson’s release, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently spoke about the ongoing detention of American citizens, including Brunson, in Turkey.
Last October, Arriaga and then-USCIRF Vice Chairman Sandra Jolley were granted access to Kiriklar Prison in Izmir to visit with Brunson, the first visitors outside of family, legal counsel and U.S. Embassy officials.
USCRIF annually issues a country-by-country, religious-freedom report to the State Department, which includes recommendations to the secretary of state and president for penalties against the worst violators.
In 2018, USCIRF placed Turkey on its Tier 2 list of countries noted for violations of religious freedom and began advocating for Brunson as a part of its Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project.