Pastor Andrew Brunson, front left, arrives at home after his release following his trial in Izmir, Turkey, on Oct. 12, 2018. A Turkish court on Friday convicted the American pastor of terror charges but released him from house arrest and allowed him to leave Turkey, in a move that is likely to ease tensions between Turkey and the United States. (AP Photo/Emre Tazegul)

Andrew Brunson freed after telling court, 'I love Jesus, I love Turkey'

IZMIR, Turkey (RNS)  — A Turkish court has freed the Rev. Andrew Brunson, an American missionary who had been the subject of a diplomatic standoff between the United States and Turkey.

Brunson had been under house arrest after being accused of terrorism and conspiring against the Turkish government. The pastor, who denies all charges against him, had previously been imprisoned.

The court handed down a 37-month sentence today (Oct. 12) but suspended that sentence, saying Brunson had already served nearly two years. A ban on Brunson traveling out of Turkey and an order for house detention were also lifted, meaning the pastor is free.

Brunson’s lawyer told the court there was no evidence against his client, at which point the judge asked Brunson to speak.

“I am an innocent human being,” Brunson told the court near the city of Izmir, where he led a church he established and tended to for nearly a decade.  “I love Jesus, I love Turkey.”

Much of the case against the pastor, who has lived in Turkey since 1993, was based on the testimony of secret witnesses and corroborated by a handful of former members of Brunson’s own congregation.

Those key testimonies were thrown into doubt after today’s hearing.

The hearing began two hours later than scheduled, at 11:30 a.m. local time, and lasted more than five hours.

Brunson was brought early in the morning from his home in Izmir, where he had been under house arrest since July. The day before the hearing, Jeffrey Hovenier, the chargé d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, visited his home, staying for about 45 minutes. The U.S. has not appointed an ambassador to Turkey, making Hovenier the highest ranking diplomat in the country.

The hearing saw two key witnesses recanting much of their testimony against Brunson, which called into question the testimony provided by Levent Kalkan, a former member of Brunson’s church who was relied heavily upon by the prosecution.

Kalkan had told the court he learned from another source that Brunson had been meeting members of the Fethullah Gulen movement, which the Turkish government blames for a failed coup in 2o16. But at the hearing, Yilmaz Demircan, the alleged source of this information, denied ever saying so.

Kalkan, for his part, acknowledged that information was not correct. He had also named several members in Brunson’s church who he said were part of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, but that information as well appears to have been fabricated.

A convoy with a car carrying U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson arrives for his trial in Izmir, Turkey, early Oct. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)


 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

In previous testimony, Kalkan had told the court the church had two types of people: those “who loved their country” and others “sympathetic to terrorism and who had separatist views.” He had accused Brunson of using aid work to Syrian refugees as a cover to find and aid ethnic Kurds who were members of the PKK, a group designated as a terror organization by Turkey and the U.S.

Kalkan alleged that eight members of the church had PKK backgrounds. He told prosecutors Brunson met with those PKK members in secret meetings at the church and a house nearby.

But at the hearing, a witness told the court Kalkan was the source of those accusations.

Volkan Surer, who Kalkan had claimed told him at least one church member was “trained in bomb-making by the PKK,” told the court in fact that he had never said this.

Instead, Surer told the court, Kalkan had told him this.

“The funny thing is that I actually heard this from Levent,” Surer told the court. “I met Levent at the Goztepe sports club, and on his insistence I went to the church. Levent told me, ‘These are all terrorists — they won’t look you in the eye.’”

Surer said the allegations by Kalkan that those members were part of the PKK were entirely fabricated.

“We are patriotic people, no matter what our faith is,” he said.

Kalkan, in response, told the court only that he “was shocked” by what Surer had said.

Pastor Andrew Brunson arrived at his house in Izmir, Turkey, on July 25, 2018, after being released from prison to remain under house arrest while his trial continued.  (AP Photo/Emre Tazegul)


 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Brunson and his supporters had maintained that Kalkan and other witnesses were resenting the fact they had been expelled from the congregation and were fabricating allegations against him.

In a statement released by the American Center for Law and Justice, which represents Brunson, Brunson thanked those who had prayed for his release. He also thanked President Trump and his attorneys.

“This is the day our family has been praying for — I am delighted to be on my way home to the United States,” Brunson said in the statement. “It’s been an extremely difficult time for our family and we want to express our appreciation to the millions of people around the world who have faithfully prayed for this day.”

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, visited with Brunson and his wife, Norine Brunson, the day before the trial. He passed along letters from Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, along with a pledge signed by more than 16,000 American Christians promising to pray for them.

"The prayers of thousands were answered today when Pastor Brunson was released by the Turkish government and told he could go home to the United States,” said Perkins in a statement.

A number of Trump’s evangelical supporters also released statements crediting prayer and the administration with Brunson’s release, including Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church; Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church and president of the National Day of Prayer Task Force; Franklin Graham, head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse; and Johnnie Moore, a public relations consultant and member of USCIRF.

Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, also tweeted out his thanks.

“The release of pastor Andrew Brunson is an answer to the prayers of millions of Christians around the world,” he said. “We pray that this crisis will remind us to continue to pray for those imprisoned by oppressive regimes around the world because of their religious faith.”

Emily Miller contributed to this report.

Comments

  1. I’m glad the guy is free – even if by going where he did and doing what he did he put himself in harm’s way.

    Now his release will be used as a fund-raising, myth constructing opportunity by those who have no regard for those they seek to fleece – or, I suspect, the God they claim to work for.

    Consider this though – “Brunson had already served nearly two years”

    Makes you wonder if there’s a base-level of prayer hours, a scale of applicant numbers dependent upon the crime alleged; or a fervency quota algorithm that must be met before God does as he’s asked, doesn’t it?

    Look guys – this whole prayer thing is – well – silly – isn’t it.
    If God is perfect he’s got no option but to do that which is perfect. He’s as limited in his options as water is as to running up hill or down. And if that’s the case, asking Him to change things is a waste of time because it means asking Him to do that which is imperfect doesn’t it?

    So is God capable of being, and therefore is, imperfect, ignorant of what’s going on until the clamour reaches a tipping point, not bothered, more concerned with who non-believers go to bed with and/or what they do there than the well-being of his followers or merely non-existent?

  2. GOOD TO KNOW: “A Turkish court on Friday CONVICTED the American pastor of terror charges”. What “terror charges”? This article did not specify. But I remember now, if Daily Sabah is to be believed. The “terror charges” were for all the following:

    (1) FOR “contact between [Andrew Craig] Brunson and the top FETÖ official in the [Aegean] region, Bekir Baz. … [And also FOR Brunson’s] frequent contacts with … [Baz’s] aide [Mustafa] Safa and Amnesty Turkey Branch Executive Taner Kılıç, who is also being accused of aiding FETÖ. … GSM signals showed that [Brunson and Baz] were at the same place or at least very close to each other on 293 occasions. … Brunson’s GSM accounts were also at the same place as the GSM accounts of Baz’s deputy Mustafa Safa.”

    (2) FOR “[taking] part in organizing the 2013 Gezi Park riots … [using] lists containing the names of ‘gas station workers in Turkey’s southeast,’ ‘railway employees,’ or ‘soldiers to get in contact with,’ with whom he exchanged information through close contacts.”

    (3) FOR “aim[ing] to create a Christian Kurdish state”.

    (4) FOR “[sending this] message to an American soldier six days after the 2016 coup attempt blamed on military infiltrators by FETÖ …’Things will get worse, we will win in the end.'”

    (5) FOR making “Mehmet Ali Eren … the attacker [who] shouted: … ‘We will bomb the church in Manisa and Al Qaeda will claim responsibility for this’ … a follower of the very church led by Brunson. It was even reported that this person was running errands for Brunson’s wife Norine Brunson.”

    Source: Daily Sabah, January 1, and March 13, and April 15 and 17, May 7, and August 9, 2018.

  3. Why hasn’t Trump placed equal pressure on Turkey to release another American citizen, Serkan Gogle, who is imprisoned on similarly trumped-up charges?

  4. No, they found they got no bribe and instead took an economic beating.

  5. ANY LESSON LEARNED HERE? Here’s a good one:

    “If you [U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson] do what is evil, be afraid; for [the Republic of Turkey] does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.”
    – Romans 13:4.

    BUT TRUTH IS – ‘I love Jesus, I love Turkey’ notwithstanding:

    (1) “On Friday, a prosecutor asked that Brunson be CONVICTED of the charges and sent back to prison. The judges found him GUILTY”.
    – Washington Post, October 13, 2018.

    (2) “A Turkish court on Friday CONVICTED Brunson of having links to terrorism and SENTENCED him to just over three years in prison”.
    – Associated Press, October 13, 2018.

    (3) “Mr Brunson, who was one of 20 Americans charged after the coup attempt two years ago, … was CONVICTED on charges of aiding terror groups while not being a member of them, and SENTENCED to three years in prison.”
    – BBC, October 13, 2018.

    (4) “US pastor Andrew Brunson … was imprisoned over allegations he was helping to plot a coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A Turkish court SENTENCED the preacher to three years and one month in prison on charges related to terrorism and espionage”.
    – The Independent, October 12, 2018.

    (5) “Brunson had been charged with helping to plot a coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A Turkish court on Friday SENTENCED Brunson to three years and one month in prison”.
    – CNN, October 12, 2018.

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