A crowd of Turkish Christians from Andrew Brunson’s Izmir Resurrection Church greeted their pastor with cries of “We love you, Andrew!” as he arrived home under police escort on Wednesday afternoon, 25 July.

After nearly 22 months in detention, Brunson was released at 5.30pm from Izmir’s Kiriklar maximum security prison and transferred to house arrest following a court order responding to his lawyer’s appeal, which cited health reasons.

However, the pastor will now not be allowed to leave the confines of his home until his next hearing, scheduled for 12 October.

Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for 23 years, has been on trial for terrorism and spying charges – of having links with the Fethullah Gülen movement, which the Ankara government blames for the failed July 2016 coup attempt, and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Andrew Brunson’s Izmir Resurrection Church (World Watch Monitor)

Last week the Second High Penal Court in the western province of İzmir rejected an appeal to release him in its latest hearing, 18 July, and decided to continue listening to the testimonies of witnesses in the next hearing. Western observers in the court told World Watch Monitor there was not one piece of evidence so far produced to indicate the pastor is guilty of any crime, and that his trial is for political expediency. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wants Gülen to be extradited back to Turkey (the cleric is currently living in the US) to stand trial for the 2016 coup.

Brunson was detained nearly two years ago, in October 2016, and faces up to 35 years in prison if found guilty. The pastor has completely denied all the charges, calling them “shameful and disgusting”.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga, who attended the hearing in Aliağa, near Izmir, welcomed his release from prison but said more needed to be done.

“This is welcome news,” she said. “It is good that Pastor Brunson will have some relief after being held in a Turkish prison for more than 600 days. But it is not enough. The Turkish government has deprived this innocent man of his due process rights and liberty for too long, and it must completely release him. If it fails to do so, the Trump Administration and the Congress should respond strongly and swiftly with targeted sanctions against the authorities responsible.”

Andrew Brunson timeline

1993 – presentUS Protestant pastor Andrew Brunson involved in legally recognised church-related Christian ministry in Turkey.
2016:
15 July
Deadly military coup attempt against Turkish government fails; Ankara blames network of US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen for coup, seeks Gulen’s extradition from US.
20 JulyTurkish President declares state of emergency (still in force), suspending certain judicial practices; 110,000 public officials dismissed, 35,000 Gulen suspects under arrest, awaiting trial.
7 OctoberBrunson detained with wife Norine, in Alsancak police station, Izmir; told he would be deported within 15 days as “threat to national security”.
19 OctoberNorine Brunson released from police detention.
20 OctoberAndrew Brunson moved to Harmandali Detention Centre (outskirts of Izmir), placed in solitary confinement.
9 DecemberSummoned (with lawyer) to closed hearing at Izmir 2nd Criminal Court.
Charges changed to “membership in an [unnamed] armed terrorist organisation”. Placed under formal arrest in overcrowded group cell at Aliaga Sakran Prison (45 miles from Izmir).
20 DecemberUS Senator James Lankford meets Turkish Justice Ministry officials in Ankara, the capital.
29 DecemberIzmir court rejects lawyer’s appeal to release Brunson.
2017:
3 January
Unnamed senior Turkish official to Wall Street Journal says claim that Brunson’s arrest related to his religious affiliation is "ludicrous".
15 February78 US Congress members write to Turkish President Erdogan, urging him to release Brunson.
9 MarchTurkish Prime Minister Yildirim tells USA Today it's a “nonsensical” idea that Brunson held hostage until Turkish cleric Gulen’s extradition from US; says pastor’s case could be "accelerated".
28 MarchBrunson sends appeal letter to US President Trump.
30 MarchUS Secretary of State Tillerson meets Norine Brunson in Ankara.
15 MayAmerican Center for Law & Justice files petition to UN Human Rights Council for Brunson’s release.
16 MayTrump asks Erdogan in person during Washington DC visit to release Brunson.
Late May-JuneFlurry of Turkish media allegations against Brunson link him with Gulen movement, armed PKK separatists, CIA, "missionary" activities.
30 MayErdogan promises "retaliation" vs. countries holding Gulen movement suspects.
7 JulyWashington Post reports Turkey’s swap offer to exchange Brunson for release of millionaire Turkish-Iranian prisoner Reza Zarrab, facing trial in New York for evading US-led Iran sanctions.
17 JulyBrunson moved to shared cell in Kiriklar Maximum Security Prison in Izmir’s Buca district.
24 JulyNew charges of “espionage & insurgency” against Brunson reported in Turkish press.
24 AugustIzmir judge initiates video conference call with Brunson and his lawyer; pastor informed his official criminal charges are “spying and insurgency”.
25 AugustNew "state of emergency" Executive Order No. 694 authorises Erdogan to arrange to swap Turkish citizen prisoners for foreigners jailed in Turkey.
28 SeptemberErdogan publicly declares swap offer of Brunson for Gulen’s extradition.
5 OctoberTwo representatives of US Commission for International Religious Freedom visit Brunson at Kiriklar Prison.
15 NovemberBrunson’s daughter Jacqueline addresses US Helsinki Commission hearing, Washington DC.
2018:
3 January
Brunson’s 50th birthday.
11 JanuaryErdogan vows no extraditions to US until Gulen returned from US to Turkey.
23 JanuaryUS delegation visiting Ankara raises Brunson’s "wrongful detention".
9 MarchJacqueline Brunson addresses UN Human Rights Commission, Geneva.
13 MarchWritten indictment against Brunson leaked to Turkish press.
16 MarchIndictment accepted by Izmir 2nd Criminal Court; first trial date set for 17 April.
26 MarchBrunson’s North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis visits him at Kiriklar Prison.
17 AprilFirst trial hearing: Brunson denies all charges, three prosecution witnesses testify; observed by US Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback and Senator Thom Tillis.
7 MaySecond trial hearing: includes 11 hours of testimony, one from a secret witness who, identity concealed, appeared on video in the court. USCIRF's vice-Chair Sandra Jolley attends.
18 JulyCourt rules Andrew Brunson must remain in prison, dashing hopes of his imminent release.
25 JulyCourt orders Andrew Brunson to be moved from prison to house arrest.