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As evening gathered Norine Brunson made her way to Kiriklar Prison in Aliaga, Turkey, on the outskirts of Izmir, where her husband, Andrew Brunson, until today has been jailed. Norine has made frequent visits to the compound throughout her husband’s nearly two years’ detention by Turkish authorities, but the visit today came soon after authorities announced they are moving the American pastor from prison to house arrest. For the first time since his jailing in October 2016, the Brunsons may live together again.
The sudden announcement on July 25 came one week after a two-hour court proceeding at Kiriklar where Brunson “defended himself with boldness,” according to eyewitnesses—but was returned to jail after the judge ordered his trial continued until Oct. 12.
Brunson attorney İsmail Cem Halavurt entered a plea for his client’s release, including “health problems” in the filing, and the court today cited Brunson’s health as the reason for the move. The court banned the North Carolina pastor from leaving Turkey, and he will not be able to leave his residence, according to Hurriyet Daily News.
Turkish news outlets report he formally left the jail at 5:25 p.m. Turkish time. Upon arrival at his home in Izmir with his wife Norine, friends were on hand to cheer him with singing and dancing.
In Washington, officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said Ankara is feeling increasing pressure from the Trump administration. On Monday, Congress approved a measure that would temporarily bar deliveries of about 100 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to Turkey, demanding in the bill Brunson’s release and citing the increasingly tense U.S.-Turkey relationship.
The decision to move Brunson also came only hours after Brunson’s daughter Jacqueline Furnari made an emotional plea for her father’s release before delegates from more than 80 nations, who are gathered this week for the State Department’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. Furnari, who married without either parent present last year, told the gathering on Wednesday “how proud I am of my father and what an example of Christ’s love he continues to be to the world as he continues to endure a wrongful imprisonment.”
Brunson, 50, has worked in Turkey for more than two decades, including serving as pastor of Resurrection Church in Izmir. Authorities detained him in October 2016 under emergency laws enacted after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan faced down an attempted coup. But the government did not formally indict Brunson until last year on charges of terrorism and spying. The 62-page indictment was made public only one month before his first hearing in April. It cites innocuous text messages from church members and contacts with volunteers from the Mormon religion, among other things, as evidence of conspiracy (see “The Brunson farce,” July 17).
“The court’s U-turn, just one week after its decision to remand Pastor Brunson until Oct. 12, is a response to strong bipartisan reaction from the United States,” said Aykan Erdemir, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former member of the TurkishParliament. “Today’s development is yet another evidence showing how principled pushback can elicit a more favorable response than appeasement.”
At the State Department on July 25, delegates rose in standing ovation after U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback announced Brunson was being released from jail.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a tweet said the United States welcomes the news, “but it is not enough. We have seen no credible evidence against Mr. Brunson, and call on Turkish authorities to resolve his case immediately in a transparent and fair manner.”
Despite the Brunsons’ pending reunion, Turkey has not dropped charges, which could carry a 35-year sentence for Brunson. And the Erdogan government continues to detain others with U.S. ties. NASA research scientist Serkan Golge was sentenced in February to 7½ years in prison on terrorism charges. And at least three employees of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara have been detained under Turkish emergency laws, with no official word on their status.
On Capitol Hill lawmakers said they had no plans to ease up on pressing for continued restrictions against Turkey, including full sanctions, pending the release of Americans. Moving Brunson from prison to house arrest “is a positive step,” said Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla. “However, Turkey should now revoke all charges, completely release Pastor Brunson, and immediately return him to the United States.”