By Bob Smietana
Andrew Brunson, an American pastor, has been moved to house arrest after spending two years behind bars in a Turkish prison.
Brunson’s release was announced Wednesday (July 25) by Vice President Mike Pence at the State Department’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, a gathering of politicians and religious freedom advocates.
About 350 representatives from 80 nations attended the event, according to Religion News Service (RNS). No representatives from Turkey were there.
Daniel Mark, president of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has called Brunson’s arrest a “travesty of justice” that has had a “chilling effect” on Christians in Turkey.
Brunson’s lawyer told NBC News that the pastor had lost about 50 pounds in jail, but was in good health. Brunson will be confined to his home and cannot leave except to attend court hearings, according to his attorney.
Turkish friends and neighbors greeted Brunson and his wife with singing, dancing and cheering as he arrived home.
American officials have been working for months to secure Brunson’s release.
“Pastor Andrew Brunson deserves to be free,” Pence said on Wednesday.
Pence also warned that the US government would take action against Turkey if Brunson was not released and sent back to the United States.
“If Turkey does not take immediate action to free this innocent man of faith and send him home to America, the United States will impose significant sanctions on Turkey until Pastor Andrew Brunson is free,” he said.
President Donald Trump repeated that warning to Turkey on Twitter.
“The United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being,”
President Trump tweeted on Thursday. “He is suffering greatly. This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!”
Brunson’s daughter spoke at the Ministerial, as did Jamie Powell, whose husband, John Cao, was sentenced to seven years in prison after doing ministry in Myanmar, according to RNS.
“He has lost 50 pounds, he’s not been able to communicate with me and my children,” said Powell, according to RNS. “My son and I traveled there, 10,000 miles, and we were not allowed to see him.
During his remarks, Pence asked Americans to remember Brunson and his family in prayer.
“To believers across America, I say: Pray for Pastor Brunson,” he said. “While he is out of jail, he is still not free.”
BOB SMIETANA (@BobSmietana) is senior writer for Facts & Trends.