The Latest: Turkey rejects Trump's assertion over pastor

ALIAGA, Turkey — The Latest on trial of American pastor Andrew Brunson, who is accused of espionage and terror related charges(all times local):

7:20 p.m.

Turkey has rejected President Donald Trump’s assertion that U.S. pressure had contributed to the release from house arrest of American pastor Andrew Brunson.

Fahrettin Altun, the communications director of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, voiced objection to Trump’s comments in a tweet that the U.S. had worked “very hard” over the case of the pastor.

Altun insisted that Turkish courts were independent from government and impartial: “We would like to remind him once again that Turkey is a democratic country with the rule of law, and that Turkish courts are independent.”

The official added: “No body, authority, office or person may issue orders or instructions to the courts or to judges in the exercise of their powers.”

Brunson, 50, had spent two years in custody. Though he was convicted of terror charges by a Turkish court, he was released from house arrest and allowed to leave Turkey. His lawyer said he was expected to return to the United States.

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5:45 p.m.

U.S. President Donald Trump is celebrating the release of an American pastor who was on trial in Turkey, saying he’ll be back in the United States soon.

A Turkish court on Friday convicted Andrew Brunson on terror-related charges, but released him from house arrest and allowed him to leave Turkey. The decision is expected to ease strained U.S.-Turkey relations.

The court sentenced Brunson to a little more than three years in prison, but since the 50-year-old evangelical pastor, a native of North Carolina, has already spent two years in detention, he won’t serve more time.

In an all-caps tweet Friday, Trump said: “PASTOR BRUNSON JUST RELEASED. WILL BE HOME SOON!”

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5:20 p.m.

U.S. President Donald Trump says he hopes to have U.S. evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson back in the United States soon.

Brunson is a 50-year-old American pastor who was convicted Friday of terror-related charges by a Turkish court but released from house arrest and allowed to leave Turkey. The move is likely to ease tensions between the two NATO allies.

Shortly after the verdict was announced, Trump tweeted: “Working very hard on Pastor Brunson!”

Trump also tweeted: “My thoughts and prayers are with Pastor Brunson, and we hope to have him safely back home soon!”

The pastor is a native of North Carolina, but has lived in Turkey for more than two decades and has been imprisoned for the past two years. He is one of thousands caught up in a Turkish government crackdown following a failed 2016 coup against the Turkish government.

Prosecutors accused Brunson of committing crimes on behalf of terror groups. He denied all the charges.

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4:45 p.m.

A Turkish court has convicted an American pastor at the center of a Turkish-American diplomatic dispute of terror charges, but has released him from house arrest and allowed him to leave Turkey.

The court near the western city of Izmir on Friday sentenced Andrew Brunson to 3 years and 1 month in prison for the conviction, but since the evangelical pastor has already spent two years in detention he won’t serve more time.

Brunson, 50, had rejected the espionage and terror-related charges and strongly maintained his innocence.

Lawyer Ismail Cem Halavurt said Brunson was expected to leave Turkey for the United States

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4:05 p.m.

A Turkish prosecutor has requested that an American pastor at the center of a diplomatic dispute between Turkey and the United States be released from house arrest pending the outcome of his trial.

In the fourth hearing in the case against Andrew Brunson, the prosecutor however also recommended that he be convicted on terror-related charges.

A panel of judges is expected to reach an interim ruling later Friday.

Brunson, 50, is accused of terror-related charges and espionage. He rejects the charges and strongly maintains his innocence.

The pastor told the court he is “an innocent man. I love Jesus, I love Turkey.”

The United States has repeatedly called for his release.

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8:35 a.m.

The trial of an American pastor at the heart of a diplomatic dispute between Turkey and the United States resumed Friday in Turkey, with observers waiting to see if authorities will release him amid threats of further U.S. sanctions.   

The fourth hearing of the case against Andrew Brunson began in a prison complex near the western city of Izmir before noon, hours after he arrived in a secured convoy before daybreak.  

The evangelical pastor is accused of terror-related charges and espionage, facing up to 35 years in jail if convicted. 

Brunson, 50, who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, rejects the charges and strongly maintains his innocence. He is one of thousands caught up in a wide-scale government crackdown that followed a failed coup against the Turkish government in July 2016. 

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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