US pastor held in Turkey 'put under house arrest'

US pastor held in Turkey 'put under house arrest'
Andrew Brunson has spent almost two years imprisoned on terror-related charges, in a case that has raised tensions with the United States.
3 min read
25 July, 2018
Turkish soldiers stand guard at Aliaga court during the trial of Andrew Brunson [Getty]
An American pastor, held in a Turkish jail for almost two years, is to be placed under house arrest while his trial continues, a court ruled on Thursday.

Andrew Brunson, who ran a protestant church in the Aegean city of Izmir, was first detained in October 2016 and stands accused of helping the group that Ankara blames for the failed 2016 coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as well as supporting outlawed PKK Kurdish militants - charges he strongly denies. If convicted, Brunson faces up to 35 years in jail. 

The state-run Anadolu news agency said he was being put under house arrest, although it was not clear if he had already left prison.

Reports said the ruling was issued by a criminal court in the Izmir region where he was being held. He has also been banned from leaving the country.

Brunson's detention has become a symbol of the problematic relationship between NATO allies Turkey and the US, and news of his release into house arrest boosted the Turkish lira, which gained almost one percent in value against the dollar.

Brunson is one of tens of thousands of people detained on similar charges during the state of emergency declared by Erdogan in the wake of the 2016 failed coup bid. The measure ended on 18 July.

On the same day, a court had ordered Brunson to remain in prison, defying growing pressure from the US authorities for his release.

It was the third time his release has been refused - the court had in two previous hearings on 16 April and 7 May  denied requests by the defence for Brunson to be set free.

US President Donald Trump described last week's ruling to keep him in jail a "disgrace", calling on his counterpart Erdogan to help free him.

In April, Trump tweeted in support of the pastor, saying he was "more a spy" than Brunson. 

On Saturday, six US senators introduced a bill to block international loans to Turkey, aiming to pressure Ankara's finances "until the Turkish government ends the unjust detention of US citizens", a committee statement said.

Turkish-US relations are already strained over Washington's refusal to extradite Gulen as well as American backing for a Kurdish militia in Syria which Turkey says is linked to the PKK.

Two Turkish employees from American missions in Turkey are also behind bars - a US Istanbul consulate staffer charged with espionage and an employee at the US consulate in Adana charged with supporting the PKK.

Last September, Erdogan suggested that Turkey could free Brunson if Washington handed over Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania - an offer brushed off by Washington.