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Trump Threatens Turkey: Let US Pastor Go Free

North Carolina's Andrew Brunson is out of jail but under house arrest, accused of espionage
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 26, 2018 1:32 PM CDT
Meet the US Pastor Now a Bargaining Chip in Turkey
Andrew Craig Brunson, an evangelical pastor from Black Mountain, North Carolina, arrives at his house in Izmir, Turkey, Wednesday, July 25, 2018. He is under house arrest.   (AP Photo/Emre Tazegul)

(Newser) – He is a 50-year-old American pastor who has been doing missionary work in Turkey for 23 years. Turkey, however, has a different description for Andrew Brunson: They say he's a spy and an abettor of terrorists who is working to overthrow the government. Brunson has been in custody for a year and a half now, though Turkey relented a bit this week and released him from jail and allowed him to return to his residence under house arrest. But US officials, including President Trump, say that's not enough. Here's a look at developments:

  • The arrest: Brunson was among those jailed in the wake of a failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016. Authorities say he has links to two terror groups, including one led by cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in the US. Brunson denies all charges, but he faces 15 years on the terror charges and another 20 for espionage if convicted, reports the AP. His trial is supposed to start in October.

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  • Health reasons: Brunson had lost about 50 pounds while in prison at one point, reports the Asheville Citizen Times, from Brunson's home state of North Carolina. Turkish officials cited unspecified health reasons for his transfer from prison to house arrest.
  • Trump threatens: President Trump—who previously raised the issue in a phone call with Erdogan, according to the New York Timestweeted Thursday that the US "will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being." Brunson, he added, "is suffering greatly. This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!"
  • Familiar name: Trump and Brunson have something in common: They're both represented by attorney Jay Sekulow, notes the Wall Street Journal.
  • Full-court press: Trump's tweet came after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence issued similar messages: The move to house arrest is not good enough. Sens. Thom Tillis, Jeanne Shaheen, Bob Corker, and James Lankford were among those saying the same.
  • A deal? Turkey has previously suggested that it would release Brunson if the US extradited cleric Gulen, but the Times reports that the US has rejected the idea. However, Turkey might have a new reason to budge: Sens. Tillis and Shaheen have added a provision to Senate legislation that would block the sale of 100 jet fighters to Turkey, per the Citizen Times.
  • Small church: Brunson is an evangelical pastor, and he and his wife ran a small Protestant church, Izmir Resurrection Church, in the city of Izmir on the Turkish coast before his arrest.
(Read more Turkey stories.)

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