(CNSNews.com) - "Working very hard on Pastor Brunson!" President Trump tweeted Friday morning, just as news reports said a Turkish court has finally freed Brunson from house arrest. "My thoughts and prayers are with Pastor Brunson, and we hope to have him safely back home soon!" the president said in a second tweet.
And a short time later, a third tweet from Trump: "PASTOR BRUNSON JUST RELEASED. WILL BE HOME SOON!"
Pastor Andrew Brunson, an evangelical preacher from North Carolina, was arrested two years ago, after two decades of living and ministering in Turkey. He was charged with terrorism and espionage, charges that both he and the U.S. government refute.
The American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative civil liberties group that represents Brunson and has worked for his release, quoted the pastor as saying, "This is the day our family has been praying for – I am delighted to be on my way home to the United States.”
"Pastor Brunson is now en route to the United States," the ACLJ said in a news release.
"President Trump and his team have been tenacious in seeking the release of Pastor Brunson,” said Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the ACLJ. “We’re grateful to the President, members of Congress and diplomatic leaders who continued to put pressure on Turkey to secure the freedom of Pastor Brunson. The fact that he is now on a plane to the United States can only be viewed as a significant victory for Pastor Brunson and his family.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who visited Brunson in jail and spoke directly to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about the case, called this a "great day," but he said he'll wait until Brunson is back in the USA to celebrate. "When he gets home, I'll feel better," he said.
Graham also expressed hope that Brunson's release might start a new chapter in the strained U.S.-Turkey relationship.
After more than 20 months in a Turkish prison, Brunson was moved to house arrest in July, despite multiple appeals for Turkey’s Islamist government to send him home.
In July, Vice President Mike Pence said, "If Turkey does not take immediate action to free Pastor Andrew Brunson and send him home to America, the United States will impose significant sanctions on Turkey until this innocent man of faith is free."
A few months later, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the administration was "sparing no effort to return Pastor Brunson home to the United States.” Pompeo said Brunson "has been wrongly held, and his proper place is to be able to return here to once again practice his faith in our great nation.”
Brunson was back in a Turkish court today, and although the court did not dismiss the phony charges against him, it did release him from house arrest based on time served.
As CNSNews.com previously reported, Brunson's arrest followed a failed coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016.
He was accused of supporting the man Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames for the coup attempt, the U.S.-based Turkish Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen; of supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK); and of “dividing and separating the country by means of Christianization” of the Turkish people.
Erdogan hinted last fall that his government might agree to swap Brunson for Gulen, whom Erdogan wants extradited.
Trump has described the pastor as a “hostage.”
CNSNews.com's foreign correspondent Patrick Goodenough has reported extensively on Brunson's plight over the past two years (see below):
Pompeo Says Pastor Andrew Brunson Will Come Home and 'Our Hearts Will be Filled With Joy’
Brunson Described As 'Political Prisoner Being Held as a Bargaining Chip for Turkey’
Turkey Vows to Retaliate After US Sanctions Two Ministers Over Brunson Case
After 580 Days in Prison, American Pastor’s Fate Remains Uncertain
Prosecutors Call For Lengthy Sentence For US Pastor in Turkish Prison
American Pastor Begins Second Year in Turkish Prison Despite Pressure From Trump, Pence