USA threatens sanctions unless Turkey releases American pastor

OZAN KOSE

The court then ruled to move Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, from prison to house arrest, citing his health problems.

If convicted, Brunson faces up to 15 years in prison for 'committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member'.

Lawmakers have also called on Turkey to release Brunson, and the final version of Congress's fiscal 2019 defense bill included a provision demanding Turkey "to release wrongfully detained US citizens including Andrew Brunson and Serkan Golge", a scientist imprisoned in Turkey. "It would be a farce if it weren't so serious", he added.

USCRIF annually issues a country-by-country, religious-freedom report to the State Department, which includes recommendations to the secretary of state and president for penalties against the worst violators. Sam Brownback, ambassador-at-large for global religious freedom, referenced Brunson during his opening remarks on Tuesday.

A total disgrace that Turkey will not release a respected U.S. Pastor, Andrew Brunson, from prison. "This can not be allowed to continue", he continued.

While the decision to place Brunson under house arrest could be a step by the Turkish government toward resolving his case - for instance, by deporting him - he remains on trial. The pastor, who has denied the charges, faces up to 35 years in jail if found guilty.

"The United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being". One of Brunson's attorneys is Jay Sekulow, who also represents Trump in the Russian Federation investigation.

Supporters claim he is effectively a political prisoner being held as a bargaining chip by Turkey, who is actively seeking the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric it blames for the failed coup.

Ties between North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies Turkey and the United States have been strained by the pastor Brunson case. Turkey considers the group linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) it bans at home, with the Americans using the fighters in its efforts to root out Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants. The pastor has denied being involved in anti-government activities, as Turkish authorities alleged.

More than 77,000 people were arrested across Turkey after the government declared a state of emergency following the failed 2016 coup.

The Second High Penal Court in the western province of Izmir rejected Andrew Brunson's plea for release, and instead chose to continue listening to the testimonies of witnesses in the next hearing scheduled for October 12. The case was adjourned until October 12.

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