Pastor Brunson's lawyer: 'The issue has to come to an end'
The lawyer for Andrew Craig Brunson, the pastor at the centre of a diplomatic standoff between the United State and Turkey, has told Middle East Eye that he remains hopeful that his client could be released from detention in the near future.
“Political developments show us that this issue has to come to an end,” Ismail Cem Halavurt told MEE.
When asked if there is any possibility for Brunson to be released before the fourth hearing on 12 October, Halavurt's answer was: “Why not?”
“I think there is a possibility of releasing Andrew Brunson, why not?" he said. "This issue now affects Turkey’s economy and its relationship with other countries, this case has been politicised over one person. It would be better if comes to an end and both parties would be relieved.”
The Brunson case has been a bone of contention between Turkey and the US for more than a year. But along with other disputes, this one has led the US to impose sanctions for the first time on one of its NATO allies. After the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Turkey's ministers of interior and justice on 1 August, Turkey took the same step in reciprocity on Saturday.
The diplomatic tit-for-tat caused the Turkish lira to hit a record low against the US dollar on Monday.
“Now there is a common perception in Turkey that the country suffers because of him and he causes the tension between the US and Turkey," Halavurt said of his client. "He loves Turkey and doesn’t want anybody getting harmed. As the statements harden, he is getting more and more stressed.”
Brunson has been behind the bars since October 2016 over accusations of helping the FETO and the PKK groups - which the Turkish government considers to be terrorist organisations - under the guise of missionary work.
He was transferred to house arrest on 25 July. The very next day, US President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence called for sanctions if he wasn’t freed.
In exchange for Brunson's release, the deal reportedly called for Hakan Atilla - the deputy CEO of Turkish state lender Halkbank, imprisoned in the US over charges of violating sanctions against Iran - be transferred to Turkey to finish his prison sentence there, as well as for Turkish tourist Ebru Ozkan, to be released by Israel after being detained over alleged terrorism charges.
However, the wording of the deal allegedly stated that Ozkan and Brunson were to be “sent back home”. Ozkan was released and flown back to Turkey, whereas Brunson was only sent back to his house in Izmir under judicial control.
Erdogan has denied that such a deal was in place. But in September, he had said: “They tell us to give the pastor back. You have one pastor [Fetullah Gulen] as well. Give him to us. Then we will try him [Brunson] and give him to you. The pastor we have is on trial. Yours is not – he is living in Pennsylvania. You can give him up easily. You can give him right away."
Gulen has lived in Pennsylvania since 1999, and is accused by the Turkish government of orchestrating a coup attempt on 15 July 2016.
The US embassy in Ankara, meanwhile, has also declined to comment on any alleged talks. However, the charge d’affaires for the embassy, Philip Kosnett has visited Brunson in his house in Izmir.
“There are some talks between the political authorities of both countries regarding the situation of Pastor Brunson, but we stay out of these talks," Halavurt said. "On judicial terms, I have been stressing that he should be freed since there is no concrete evidence, only anonymous witnesses. For me, there isn't any evidence or proof to keep him under house arrest. The officials from the US embassy keeps seeing and visiting Andrew."
He added that if Brunson was released from house arrest while the trial was still ongoing, he would most probably go back to the US.
“But he will make the final decision according to the circumstances when the day comes,” he says.