National Security

Detained American Pastor in Turkey to Be Moved From Jail to House Arrest

Andrew Brunson in Turkey, March 13, 2018 / Getty Images

Andrew Brunson, an American pastor who has been in Turkish custody for almost two years, will be put under house arrest as his trial continues.

Brunson, an evangelical pastor and North Carolina native, will be released from jail in western Turkey and returned to his house because of "health problems," according to the Associated Press.

Arrested after the failed Turkish coup attempt in 2016, Brunson was charged with supposed ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party and U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey believes inspired much of the turbulence.

Last week, a Turkish court rejected appeals from U.S. officials to release Brunson. President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have called for the pastor’s release, saying the terrorism and espionage charges are false.

"The government of Turkey continues to make a mockery of justice in its treatment of Pastor Brunson," said Kristina Arriaga, vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, in response to the ruling.

Nate Schenkkan, Director for Special Research at Freedom House, called the ruling a "case study in the absurdity of the present Turkish justice system." "It would be a farce if it weren't so serious," he added.

The announcement that Brunson would be moved from prison to house arrest comes as the State Department hosts a Ministerial to Advance International Religious Freedom. Sam Brownback, ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, referenced Brunson during his opening remarks on Tuesday.

"In Turkey, Pastor Andrew Brunson remains wrongfully imprisoned on false charges," Brownback told foreign delegates and civil society representatives. "This cannot be allowed to continue," he continued. "The lack of religious freedom anywhere is a threat to peace and prosperity everywhere."

Although it is unclear when Brunson will be transferred from prison, his lawyer said the pastor's family was "elated" by the news he would be moved to house arrest.