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Turkey sets free American pastor

A Turkish judge convicted Brunson on charges of “providing aid to terrorist groups without being a member,” while sentencing him to time served and lifting a ban on foreign travel, clearing the way for his return to the United States.

Pastor Brunson hugged his wife and shed tears of joy as he left the courtroom flanked by an American delegation. Giving his closing statement in perfect Turkish, the Evangelical minister, who moved to Turkey in 1993, said “I’m an innocent man – I love Jesus, and I love this country.”

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The case of jailed pastor Andrew Brunson

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This undated photo made available by the Dogan News Agency on March 13, 2018 shows Andrew Brunson, an American pastor, in Izmir. Andrew Brunson, an American pastor held in Turkey for one and a half years in a case that further strained relations between Ankara and Washington, is to go on trial on April 16 on terror-related charges. Brunson, who ran a church in the western city of Izmir, was detained by the Turkish authorities in October 2016 and then remanded in custody. He is charged in the indictment with carrying out activities on behalf of the group led by preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara says masterminded the failed coup in 2016, and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Both are banned by Turkey as terror groups. / AFP PHOTO / DHA / STR / Turkey OUT (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Cem Halavurt, the lawyer of jailed American pastor Andrew Brunson, speaks during an interview on April 15, 2018 in Izmir. American pastor Andrew Brunson, who ran a church in the western city of Izmir, will go on trial in Turkey on April 16, 2018, on terror-related charges after spending the last one-and-a-half years behind bars, in a case that has raised friction between Ankara and Washington. He is charged in the indictment with carrying out activities on behalf of the group led by preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara says masterminded the failed coup in 2016, and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Both are banned by Turkey as terror groups. / AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)

Ismail Cem Halavurt (C), the lawyer of jailed US pastor Andrew Brunson, arrives for the trial of his client, held on charges of aiding terror groups, in Aliaga, north of Izmir, on April 16, 2018. An American pastor went on trial in Turkey on April 16 on terror-related charges after spending the last one-and-a-half years behind bars, in a case that has increased friction between Ankara and Washington. Andrew Brunson, who ran a church in the western city of Izmir and was detained in October 2016, was present in court as the trial opened in the town of Aliaga north of Izmir. / AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)

US Senetor Thom Tillis speaks to the press in front of the Aliaga court and prison complex, after the trial of US pastor Andrew Brunson, held on charges of aiding terror groups, in Aliaga, north of Izmir, on April 16, 2018. An American Christian pastor who has spent the last one and a half years in jail in Turkey strongly rejected terror-related charges on April 16, 2018 as his trial got underway, in a case that has raised tensions with Washington. Andrew Brunson, who ran a protestant church in the western city of Izmir, was detained by Turkish authorities in October 2016. If convicted, he risks up to 35 years in jail. / AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)

Jailed US pastor Andrew Brunson's wife Norine Brunson leaves the Aliaga court and prison complex, after the trial of US pastor Andrew Brunson, held on charges of aiding terror groups, in Aliaga, north of Izmir, on April 16, 2018. An American Christian pastor who has spent the last one and a half years in jail in Turkey strongly rejected terror-related charges on April 16, 2018 as his trial got underway, in a case that has raised tensions with Washington. Andrew Brunson, who ran a protestant church in the western city of Izmir, was detained by Turkish authorities in October 2016. If convicted, he risks up to 35 years in jail. / AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)

Cem Halavurt, the lawyer of jailed American pastor Andrew Brunson,leaves the Aliaga court and prison complex, after the trial of US pastor Andrew Brunson, held on charges of aiding terror groups, in Aliaga, north of Izmir, on April 16, 2018. An American Christian pastor who has spent the last one and a half years in jail in Turkey strongly rejected terror-related charges on April 16, 2018 as his trial got underway, in a case that has raised tensions with Washington. Andrew Brunson, who ran a protestant church in the western city of Izmir, was detained by Turkish authorities in October 2016. If convicted, he risks up to 35 years in jail. / AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)

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Brunson’s release ends a sore diplomatic saga between Turkey and the United States. Both President Donald Trump and Vice President Pence have been outspoken in their calls for Turkey to release the evangelical pastor. After repeated attempts to negotiate a deal to secure Brunson’s release, the United States responded with sanctions against Turkey, worsening an economic crisis that has seen the Turkish lira lose nearly 40 per cent of its value this year. Brunson’s final hearing also came at an opportune time for Turkey, as investigators continue probing the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.

Brunson, who had maintained his innocence throughout the duration of the trial, ran a small Evangelical Presbyterian parish in the coastal city of Izmir with about 50 parishioners. He was active in humanitarian aid projects to serve Syrian refugees, and that’s where Turkish investigators claim he came in contact with members of terrorist groups.

He was jailed in October 2016 amid accusations of his links to groups Turkey blames for a bloody coup attempt three months earlier. Several of his own parishioners testified as witnesses, both for and against Brunson.

The final courtroom drama played out in a series of bizarre and dramatic surprises, as several witnesses for the prosecution recanted their previous testimonies.

One woman said she did not personally know Brunson. Another two men contradicted their past claims. When the newly appointed prosecutor asked them about past statements they made asserting that a member of the congregation, a member of the blacklisted Kurdistan Workers Party, was building bombs, both men said that it was a rumor they had heard from the other.

One witness accused another who testified against Brunson of holding a vendetta after he was kicked out of the congregation.

Another witness was asked by the prosecutor why he believed Brunson was connected to terrorist groups. The man replied, “I never saw any bombs or bombers, but I’m a Turkish nationalist – to me, all Syrians are terrorists.”

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