Turkey: American pastor on trial for terror let out of jail

Turkey: American pastor on trial for terror let out of jail

President Donald Trump threatened North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally Turkey with "large" economic sanctions Thursday unless detained American Pastor Andrew Brunson is freed.

The American will be under house arrest as his trial on terror and espionage charges continues.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy told the country's state-run Anadolu news agency that Trump's rhetoric was "unacceptable".

The house arrest ruling was issued by a criminal court in the Izmir region where Brunson was being held.

Pompeo said "no credible evidence" had been presented against the pastor and called on Ankara to resolve the case in a "fair" way. He has denied charges that he engaged in espionage and collusion with terror groups.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reacted to the warning Thursday, tweeting "No one dictates Turkey".

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Pence spoke at the close of a three-day conference in Washington on religious freedom.

"This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!" he said. Pence said Thursday that this was a welcome first step but "not good enough".

Sam Brownback, ambassador-at-large for worldwide religious freedom, referenced Brunson during his opening remarks on Tuesday.

The Trump administration has repeatedly pressed the Turkish government to release Brunson, 50, a longtime resident of Turkey who was swept up in a campaign of mass arrests that followed a coup attempt against Erdogan in the summer of 2016.

Aksoy added, "As regards the Brunson case, necessary information has been provided to our USA counterparts on various occasions and it has been clearly expressed that this issue is totally within the competence of the independent Turkish judiciary". Pence highlighted cases of what he said was religious repression in Nicaragua, Iran, North Korea, China and Myanmar.

"I find it hard to see how this relationship moves forward. if the Turkish government continues to detain Pastor Brunson as well as locally employed staff, journalists, and civil servants", Democratic Senator Robert Menendez said.

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"In Burma, the situation in northern Rakhine state constitutes ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, a religious minority".

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.

Mr Brunson is one of 20 Americans who were charged after the coup, according to the New York Times.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has previously linked Brunson's return to the USA to the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, the cleric Turkey's government holds responsible for the failed July 2016 military coup.

A Turkish court declined an offer from Brunson's lawyer at a recent hearing to release the pastor pending the conclusion of the trial. Gulen has denied any role in the coup attempt, in which 250 people were killed.

Erdogan suggested a year ago that Brunson's case could be connected to an extradition request for Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania.

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USA evangelicals have been an influential part of Trump's coalition of support, both in his campaign and in his administration, and have pushed the White House to act on the Brunson case.