Oct 12, 2018, 11:06 AM ET

US pastor held for 2 years freed by Turkish court

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A Turkish court has freed American pastor Andrew Brunson after two years in detention, according to Turkish state media.

His case had created a deep rift in U.S.-Turkish relations, with the Trump administration heavily committed to securing his freedom and punishing its NATO ally with economic penalties for not doing so. An evangelical Christian pastor, he had also become a rallying cry for religious freedom advocates in the U.S.

PHOTO: Andrew Craig Brunson is escorted by Turkish plain clothes police officers, July 25, 2018, in Izmir, Turkey.AFP/Getty Images
Andrew Craig Brunson is escorted by Turkish plain clothes police officers, July 25, 2018, in Izmir, Turkey.

President Donald Trump tweeted about his impending release Friday, saying his administration was "working very hard" on his case and adding later, "PASTOR BRUNSON JUST RELEASED. WILL BE HOME SOON!"

Brunson, who was detained in a Turkish prison until he was moved to house arrest in July, was convicted of terrorism and espionage charges, which his lawyers have denied as baseless. The court in Izmir, Turkey, sentenced him Friday to three years and one a half months, but given his time served and that it was his first arrest, his house arrest and travel ban have been lifted.

That means he could leave the country, where he worked as a pastor for two decades, as soon as Friday.

PHOTO: U.S consulate officials escort Norine Brunson, wife of American pastor Andrew Brunson, as she departs for her husbands court hearing on Oct. 12, 2018 in Izmir, Turkey.Burak Kara/Getty Images
U.S consulate officials escort Norine Brunson, wife of American pastor Andrew Brunson, as she departs for her husband's court hearing on Oct. 12, 2018 in Izmir, Turkey.

Brunson was detained in October 2016 and formally arrested that December. He was charged with ties to two groups Turkey considers terrorist organizations: A Kurdish separatist group called the PKK that the U.S. has also designated a terrorist organization, and the Gulenists, a political-religious movement led by exiled cleric Fetullah Gulen who Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused of fomenting a 2016 failed coup attempt.

Gulen, who is a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. living in Pennsylvania, has denied that allegation.

Brunson's lawyer Ismail Halavurt told ABC News they would still move to appeal his case because they reject all the charges.

The Trump administration had sanctioned two senior Turkish officials over Brunson's longtime detention -- Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül and Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu -- calling them "leaders of Turkish government organizations responsible for implementing Turkey’s serious human rights abuses," according to the Treasury Department.

Shortly afterward, the U.S. also imposed steel and aluminum tariffs on Turkey, citing national security. The economic penalties sparked trouble in the markets, leading to Turkey's currency to plunge.

It was unclear Friday if the U.S. would now lift those sanctions, as the two NATO allies seek to repair ties.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump talks to Turkeys President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as they arrive for the NATO summit in Brussels, July 11, 2018.Pool via AFP/Getty Images, FILE
President Donald Trump talks to Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as they arrive for the NATO summit in Brussels, July 11, 2018.

"Brunson's release is a big deal for U.S.-Turkey relationship: It clears the air in [bilateral] ties, resets ties between two powerful presidents, lets off steam against Turkey in U.S. Congress, and allows Turkey and the U.S. to tackle [bilateral] issues without the emotional dimension of the pastor's arrest," according to Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Among those thorny issues that remain are Turkey's purchase of a Russian missile system, U.S. support for Kurdish groups in Syria, and Erdogan's sweeping crackdown on political opposition.

ABC News's Ben Gittleson contributed to this report.

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  • Indie6050

    If one is going to credit Trump for this, he is not the only president who has gotten prisoners freed from foreign prisons, in and out office.

  • southwestfan

    Trump claims today he doesn't make "deals for hostages". Yet, just the day before he said he is "working very hard on it" and its obvious he still wants credit for it.

    I guess Fox News has it mixed up to. Oct12 "As of Thursday evening, other sources told Fox News that there is indeed a "tentative" government-to-government deal on the pastor's release"

  • Gary Grimm

    Thank you, Mr. President. M.A.G.A.

  • Ctrygrl

    I am glad this man is free. Turkey doesn't have a lot of oil or buy a lot of weapons from us, so one must wonder will the Saudi's pay a price for murdering a journalist who was a resident of the US, or if this will be glossed over by this administration.

  • TexasVulcan

    I don't know if Trump helped obtain this guy's release, but I thank him for it.

  • Interloper

    Trumps invited him to the white house like a returning hero. But I thought he liked people who weren't captured. I'm confused

  • zorkamundo

    Pastor, my foot! He's an evangelical rabblerouser who should have been left to rot. He made the choice to go there and cause trouble. I have no sympathy for people who try to foist their religious bs on others - especially "evangelicals". Stupid brain dead idiots, all of them.

  • Davey Jones

    Another Trump move getting an American out of trouble. No press on that angle.

  • what name

    Midnight express.

  • krussell25

    he went to Turkey and broke their laws.
    They told him to stop.
    He broke more laws.
    They arrested him.
    They released him as a political move over the Saudi Arabian killing of a journalist.
    Trump takes credit.

  • Deep Cover

    "US pastor held for two years freed by Turkey". Wow. Imagine that. I wonder what turkey let him out of prison? And how?

  • Kansasgirl52

    Great job of negotiating the release of this Pastor by the Trump administration! These successes are so difficult for the Democrats because all they want is for President Trump to fail, no matter the cost. Had difficulty even finding this story on CNN's website. Bravo President Trump - Thank you,now 17 hostages have been freed because of your tenacity, persistence, good negotiating and strong leadership! Let's see how the left makes this success into a negative.

  • True Patriot

    Thank you Obama

  • Guiseppe Bootsky Zwei

    Here's a tip:
    Don't promote your "Ministry" in other countries.
    Especially when they have a large Muslim Population.

  • Mr. Logical

    Trump in office: "US pastor held for two years freed by Turkish court"
    Obama in office: "Obama secures release of US pastor held prisoner for two years in Turkey"

  • informativex

    Thank you Donald Trump. What an amazing President!

  • Prophet With Honor

    Would anyone be surprised if in the
    near future we reversed our decision and extradited Gulen the opposition cleric?

  • B-K KnightRider

    Good job. Sometimes Trump's administration does a good job in spite of Trump's incompetence.

  • Gumby4417

    It isn't partisan to point out that eliminating sanctions to reward a tyrant for releasing a political prisoner is a bad decision on the part of the USA administration.

  • Dicazi

    Wonderful. Joyful news for his friends and family.

    But there are other American citizens being held by Turkey. What are we doing to obtain their release??
    One on house arrest that can't leave.
    One in prison, and his wife and kids can't leave the country. Both on the same trumped up charges.

  • Bill S

    Do not reward a leader for releasing polical prisoners. That goes for friends and foes of the US

  • think before you type

    Even a small victory (yes it’s small) is met with partisan cries.

    If the only comment people can make is my party good, other party bad why bother.

    The actions themselves are good or bad. Using party by itself or mainly as the judge of goodness or badness is wrong.

  • HadEnoughYet

    A clear sign the US President only cares about his base. He will do this, but will not stand up to Saudis when it comes to the press.

    MAGA?