WASHINGTON – U.S. officials hope American pastor Andrew Brunson will be freed soon after his scheduled court hearing Friday in Turkey, after two-plus years of detention there.
Brunson, a Christian missionary who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, was arrested in 2016 and accused of plotting to overthrow the government of Turkey, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
President Donald Trump has clashed with Erdogan over Brunson’s case – going so far as to slap sanctions and tariffs on Turkey earlier this year to pressure the Turkish leader.
NBC News reported Thursday that the White House expects Brunson to be released soon. NBC and The Washington Post reported that the Trump administration has reached a deal to ease economic penalties on Turkey in exchange for dropping or reducing some charges against Brunson.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert would not confirm those accounts.
“I am not aware of any such deal,” she said. “There’s a legal process that plays out.”
Nauert said U.S. embassy officials would attend Friday’s hearing in support of Brunson.
“This is a case that the entire U.S. government has followed very, very closely,” she said. “I’m hopeful that before too long, he had his wife will be able to return to the United States.”
Brunson is not the only U.S. citizen detained in Turkey, but he has gained the most attention in part because of his ties to the American evangelical community. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have become personally involved in pressing for his release.
Brunson, who has family roots in North Carolina, is currently under house arrest with his wife Norine – forbidden from leaving his guarded apartment in Izmir, a city on Turkey’s southwest coast.
Brunson previously served 20 months in a Turkish jail. He could face 35 years in prison if convicted. His supporters have said the charges against him are absurd.
“He is not an armed terrorist trying to overthrow any government,” Brunson’s daughter, Jacqueline Brunson Furnari, said at a July 24 State Department forum on human rights and religious freedom. “… Every single thing in his life is centered on his faith.”
Before his arrest, Andrew Brunson and his wife a tended to a small congregation at their Resurrection Church in Izmir, a city of 4.2 million people that’s nearly twice as large as Houston. They spent years ministering to Christians in a country where Islam is the religion followed by the vast majority of Turks.
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