Turkey’s official Anadolu News Agency reported that Brunson, 50, an evangelical Christian pastor originally from North Carolina, was let out of jail to serve home detention because of “health problems” which were not further specified.
Brunson was charged with spying for the PKK, a designated terrorist group in the U.S. and Turkey, and the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) which orchestrated the defeated coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
The cleric denies the charges.
The Izmir 2nd High Criminal Court said Brunson would be electronically monitored and barred from leaving his house. The cleric left prison with a police escort after completing certain procedures.
Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for 23 years serving as the pastor of Izmir Resurrection Church, is also prohibited from leaving Turkey.
The court decided to allow Brunson to live at his home address in Izmir, and as his trial continues his "abandonment of residence" is prohibited and he is also banned from leaving the country.
If convicted, he will face up to 15 years in prison for “committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member” and another 20 years if he is found guilty of espionage.
The pastor’s detention has strained ties between Ankara and Washington. The two NATO Allies are already at loggerheads for some time.
Citing Brunson’s case and Turkey’s plan to buy the S-400 missile system from Russia, U.S. senators are pushing to delay Turkey’s acquisition of American-made F-35 fighter jets.
President Trump and Vice President Pence’s Twitter bluster
On Twitter, U.S. President Trump threatened to impose sanctions on Turkey if Ankara continues to refuse to free Brunson.
"The United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson," Trump tweeted. "He is suffering greatly. This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!"
Trump called Brunson “a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being.”
Previous to this tweet, again on Twitter, Trump tweeted that the detention is a “total disgrace.” “He has done nothing wrong, and his family needs him!” Trump tweeted.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaking in Washington D.C., at a conference on religious freedom hosted by the U.S. State Department, made a similar threat of “significant sanctions” against Ankara over the imprisoned pastor.
Pence, threatened President Erdogan and the Turkish government via Twitter to “be prepared to face consequences if Pastor Andrew Brunson is not released immediately.
Evangelical support for Pastor Brunson
The reason why Brunson’s detention has received so much attention is due to the evangelical Christian lobby in the U.S. – as they are among the president’s most reliable supporters. The White House has been pressured by these groups to take steps in order to ensure Brunson’s release.
On Wednesday Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also expressed his opinion about the decision of the Turkish court to place Brunson under house arrest.
"We welcome long overdue news that Pastor [Andrew Craig] Brunson has been moved from prison to house arrest in Turkey," Pompeo said in a tweet.
Pompeo, described the court’s decision as "not enough" while he added that there is “no credible evidence” against Brunson.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also responded to the statements of the White House on Twitter, saying, “We will never tolerate threats from anybody.”
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry insisted that the Brunson Case is under Turkey’s jurisdiction as a sovereign state, and told the Anadolu Agency that the White House’s rhetoric was “unacceptable.”
“With regard to the Brunson case, necessary information has been provided to our U.S. counterparts on various occasions and it has been clearly expressed that this issue is totally within the competence of the independent Turkish judiciary,” the ministry added.
After the threats of Trump and Pence via Twitter, Ankara’s Ambassador to Washington, Serdar Kilic, said that the United States should not resort to threats against Turkey.
"My message was crystal clear; No one should expect Turkey to give in to threats and that as an Ally US should not resort to threats against us," the Ambassador said in a post on his Twitter account, adding his disappointment that U.S. authorities had failed to take his explicit advice at all levels into consideration.
*Written by Suna Nur Sarihan