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. 


No sign of imminent North Korea missile launch: Seoul

Above, a satellite image by DigitalGlobe of North Korea’s Sohae facility, which has been used to launch satellites into space since 2011. (DigitalGlobe via AP)
Updated 18 March 2019
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No sign of imminent North Korea missile launch: Seoul

  • ‘Tongchang-ri is a launch site but we don’t see any activity being carried out for a missile launch’
  • North Korea has used Sohae to launch satellites into space since 2011

SEOUL: It is too soon to tell if recent activity at some of North Korea’s rocket facilities is preparation for a missile launch, South Korea’s defense minister told a parliamentary hearing on Monday. Early in March, several American think-tanks and South Korean officials reported that satellite imagery showed possible preparations for a launch from the Sohae rocket launch site at Tongchang-ri, North Korea, which has been used in the past to launch satellites but not intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead.
“It’s hasty to call it missile-related activity,” Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo told a parliamentary defense committee.
“Tongchang-ri is a launch site but we don’t see any activity being carried out for a missile launch.”
When asked if he could confirm whether Sohae was functionally restored, Jeong said it was inappropriate for intelligence authorities to comment on every media report one way or the other.
He also said there were signs of continued nuclear activity in North Korea, without elaborating.
Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon told a separate parliamentary panel that it was possible that the recent developments at the missile site were to bolster North Korea’s leverage in negotiations.
“But given North Korea’s continued work, thorough analysis is needed to find out its exact intentions,” Cho said.
On Friday, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui told foreign diplomats and journalists in Pyongyang that leader Kim Jong Un was considering suspending talks with the United States and may rethink a freeze on missile and nuclear tests unless the United States made concessions.
The activity at Sohae appeared to begin shortly before US President Trump met Kim at a summit in Hanoi late last month.
The summit broke down over differences about US demands for North Korea to denuclearize and its demand for dramatic relief from international sanctions imposed for its nuclear and missile tests, which it pursued for years in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.
Trump said after his first summit with Kim in Singapore last June that Kim had promised to dismantle the Sohae test site, a pledge the North Korean leader reiterated and expanded on at a summit with Moon in September.
North Korea has used Sohae to launch satellites into space since 2011, and the United States says its work there has helped develop missile technology.
A satellite launch in April 2012 killed off an Obama administration deal for a freeze in North Korean nuclear and missile testing reached weeks earlier.
On Wednesday, 38 North, a group that monitors North Korea, reported that there had been no new activity at Sohae since March 8.
On Friday, the group reported that satellite imagery showed no activity at North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear reactor complex, or at dismantled facilities at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.