Court convicted Andrew Brunson on ‘terror’ charges but pastor at heart of US-Turkey diplomatic spat free to leave.
A Turkish court has sentenced US pastor Andrew Brunson to three years in prison, but suspended the rest of his jail term for time already served, paving the way for his return to the United States.
The court on Friday also lifted Brunson’s house arrest and hold departure order, allowing him and his family to leave Turkey if they choose to.
Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu, reporting from Izmir, said that Brunson was sentenced to three years, one month and 15 days in prison, but the rest of the sentence is suspended.
“Technically, Pastor Brunson is free and good to go back to his country if he wants. Or if he wants to stay, he can stay,” Koseoglu said.
“This is good news for the Americans, as well as the Turkish market. Everybody was waiting for this court decision, as there was pressure on the Turkish lira following the tension between the US and Turkey” over the Brunson case, she added.
After the court ordered Brunson’s release, US President Donald Trump wrote in a Tweet his “thoughts and prayers” were with the pastor.
The court decision ends the friction over his case that caused a crisis in relations between NATO allies Ankara and Washington.
With Washington slapping sanctions on Ankara, the crisis also sparked a crash in the Turkish lira in August that exposed Turkey’s economic fragility.
Galip Dalay, a visiting Scholar at the University of Oxford, said that the release of Brunson removes a main source of the tensions in the relations between Washington and Ankara.
“The judgement opens the way for the two countries to cooperate further in and focus on the other areas of mutual interest such as the Syrian crisis and the case of [missing journalist] Jamal Khashoggi,” he said.
“The US sanctions on Turkey are likely to be removed after this development as well.”
Brunson, 50, was arrested in 2016 as part of the government crackdown in the wake of a failed coup bid. He has been house arrest since July.
The US evangelical preacher was accused of links with Kurdish rebels and supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the cleric blamed by Turkey for the failed coup attempt.
Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years, has denied the charges and maintained his innocence.
The US has maintained he is held unjustly and has repeatedly called for his release.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has insisted that he had no sway over the judiciary and that the courts would decide on Brunson’s fate.