US pastor Andrew Brunson freed in Turkey despite 3-year jail term

Andrew Brunson, an evangelical pastor, seen here in July, has been at the center of a diplomatic row between the US and Turkey (AP)
Updated 12 October 2018
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US pastor Andrew Brunson freed in Turkey despite 3-year jail term

  • US President Donald Trump imposed sanctions on Turkey in an attempt to secure Brunson's release
  • Brunson's lawyer tells reporters the pastor was likely to leave Turkey

ANKARA: A Turkish court ruled on Friday that the American evangelical Christian pastor at the center of a row between Ankara and Washington could go free, a move that could be the first step towards mending ties between the NATO allies.
The court sentenced Andrew Brunson to three years and 1-1/2 months in prison on terrorism charges, but said he would not serve any further jail time. The pastor, who has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years, was put in prison two years ago and has been under house arrest since July.
US President Donald Trump, who has imposed sanctions on Turkey in an attempt to secure Brunson's release, tweeted: "PASTOR BRUNSON JUST RELEASED. WILL BE HOME SOON!"
Dressed in a black suit, white shirt and red tie, the North Carolina native wept as the decision was announced, witnesses said. Before the judge's ruling he had told the court: "I am an innocent man. I love Jesus, I love Turkey."
After briefly going back to his home in the nearby city of Izmir to collect belongings, Brunson was driven to Izmir airport where he made no comment to a waiting throng of reporters.
He then boarded a US military plane taking him to the US air base of Ramstein in Germany, from where he would head onwards back to the United States, his lawyer Cem Halavurt said
The diplomatic stand-off over Brunson, who had been pastor of the Izmir Resurrection Church, had accelerated a selloff in Turkey's lira, worsening a financial crisis.
Brunson had been accused of links to Kurdish militants and supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the cleric blamed by Turkey for a coup attempt in 2016. Brunson denied the accusation and Washington had demanded his immediate release.
Witnesses told the court in the western town of Aliaga that testimonies against the pastor attributed to them were inaccurate.
After the judge questioned one witness, Brunson said the judge was asking about incidents Brunson had not been involved in. His wife Norine looked on from the visitors' area.
Trump has scored points with evangelical Christians, a large part of his political base, by focusing on the Brunson case.
The pastor's release could boost Trump's ability to spur such voters to vote in large numbers for Republicans in the Nov. 6 elections, which will determine whether they keep control of Congress.
The heavily conservative constituency voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016. He has called Brunson a "great Christian", and Vice President Mike Pence, the White House's top emissary to evangelicals, has urged Americans to pray for Brunson.
US broadcaster NBC said on Thursday that Washington had had done a secret deal with Ankara to secure Brunson's release.
The lira stood at 5.910 to the dollar at 1336 GMT, little changed on the day after firming 3 percent on Thursday on expectations that Brunson would be released.
Relations between the two NATO allies are also under strain from disputes over U.S. support for Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, Turkey's plans to buy a Russian missile defence system, and the jailing of a Turkish bank executive for violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.
With Brunson's release, attention may now turn to the fate of a Turkish-U.S. national and former NASA scientist in jail in Turkey on terrorism charges, as well as local employees of the US consulate who have also been detained. 


Philippine police: Gunmen kill 9 people who occupied farm

Updated 21 October 2018
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Philippine police: Gunmen kill 9 people who occupied farm

  • At least two of the victims may have fired back at the attackers because spent pistol and shotgun casings were found in the area
  • The National Federation of Sugar Workers condemned the killings of its members

BACOLOD, Philippines: Gunmen killed nine members of a farmers’ group who occupied part of a privately owned sugarcane plantation in a central Philippine province, police said Sunday.
The victims were resting in a hut Saturday night when about 10 gunmen opened fire, police said. At least four farmers survived the attack at the plantation in Sagay city in Negros Occidental province, which has a history of bloody land feuds.
“There are groups fighting over that land,” Sagay police Chief Inspector Roberto Mansueto said.
At least two of the victims may have fired back at the attackers because spent pistol and shotgun casings were found in the area, Mansueto said.
“Witnesses say they heard only a few initial shots. Apparently the victims were just being threatened,” Mansueto told reporters. “But later there seemed to have been an exchange of fire.”
The National Federation of Sugar Workers condemned the killings of its members, who included four women and two minors. The group said the victims were forced to plant vegetables and root crops to feed their families on idle land that’s covered by the government’s land reform program but remained undistributed to poor farmers.
Two other peasant leaders belonging to the federation were killed in Sagay city last December and in February this year by suspected pro-government forces, the group said. It said that about 45 farmers asserting their land rights have been killed on Negros island under President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.
Instead of offering an effective land reform program, Duterte’s government “red baits those who assert their rights to the land,” the group said, referring to pronouncements by civilian and military officials linking protesting farmers to communist guerrillas.
There was no immediate government reaction. Regional police chief Superintendent John Bulalacao condemned Saturday’s attack and said everything was being done to ensure the rapid arrest of the killers.
In September 1985, government forces opened fire on protesters, many of them farmers, in Negros Occidental province as they were commemorating the 1972 declaration of martial law by then-President Ferdinand Marcos. Several died in an event that left-wing activists still mark each year.