By Aaron Earls
After being detained in Turkey for two years, American pastor Andrew Brunson has been freed by Turkish courts.
He was sentenced to three years and one month in prison, but the court released him based on time served and his manner during the proceedings, according to his lawyer.
Before walking into the trial, Brunson said, “I am an innocent man. I love Jesus. I love Turkey.”
“Today’s decision by the Turkish government is good news,” said Tony Perkins, commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. “We celebrate along with the millions of Americans who have been praying for Pastor Brunson’s release.”
Brunson was arrested in 2016 and charged with terrorism and assisting an coup against Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
He was first detained on October 7, 2016 and spent almost two years in prison before being placed under house arrest earlier this year on July 25.
During subsequent trials, Brunson maintained his innocence, saying he rejected all the allegations and never supported terrorist organizations.
The government brought witnesses who initially asserted Brunson’s involvement with the coup, but in the latest hearing those who testified changed their story, according to Aykan Erdemir, a former member of the Turkish Parliament.
Of the four witnesses who earlier testified against Pastor #AndrewBrunson, one claims reading the allegations in the news, another says he was misunderstood by the judge, and the last two claim that they first heard the allegations from one another. What a travesty of justice!
— Aykan Erdemir (@aykan_erdemir) October 12, 2018
Previously, Brunson said he forgave the false witnesses. “My faith teaches me to forgive,” he said, “so I forgive those who testified against me.”
The U.S. had been putting increasing pressure on Turkey to free Brunson. Prior to his release, the USCIRF called his treatment a “travesty of justice.”
Despite Brunson’s release the USCIRF maintains concerns about religious freedom in Turkey, with Perkins asserting they “remain concerned for the Turkish people because numerous religious communities, such as the Greek Orthodox community and the Alevis, continue to face discrimination and restrictions on registration and ownership of property.”
Brunson became involved in geopolitical maneuvering between the U.S. and Turkey.
Earlier this year, both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence warned that the U.S would levy sanctions against Turkey if they refused to release Brunson.
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor for Facts & Trends.