(Reuters) - The parents of a U.S. pastor facing terrorism charges in Turkey rejoiced on Friday as they learned after an all-night prayer vigil that a court ordered the release of their son.
A court in the western Turkish town of Aliaga on Friday sentenced Andrew Brunson, who had been charged with links to Kurdish militants and supporters of a U.S.-based Muslim cleric, to more than three years in prison but said he would not serve any further time because he had already been detained since October 2016.
Pamela Brunson, 75, the mother of the pastor, was at her home in Black Mountain, a town in North Carolina near Asheville, when she learned of the news from a Reuters reporter calling about the court’s decision.
“They have?” she said, her voice quavering. “Well, we were at an all-night prayer meeting during the trial and we got home and we fell asleep. We were up all night. Praise God! I’m so excited! Oh that’s wonderful! Thank you so much for letting us know. We’re so happy.”
She brought her husband, Ron, near the phone as the reporter read aloud some of a published Reuters report about the proceedings in Turkey.
“We are overjoyed that God has answered the prayers of so many people around the world,” she said.
In Turkey, witnesses said Brunson wept as the decision was announced. Before the judge’s ruling, the pastor told the court: “I am an innocent man. I love Jesus, I love Turkey.”
Brunson, 50, has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years. His arrest two years ago led to U.S. tariffs against Turkey and drew condemnation from U.S. President Donald Trump.
Brunson has been affiliated with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, which has its headquarters in Florida, since 2010, according to Brian Smith, a spokesman for the denomination.
Smith said he had been up all night at home monitoring the court proceedings online, as had at least a few other members of the church’s roughly 142,000 congregants.
“We’re obviously very thankful that God has shown himself faithful as he always does,” Smith said.
Pastor Richard Harris, who serves at the church near Brunson’s parents’ home in North Carolina, had travelled to Turkey to be in court on Friday, Smith said.
Smith said the church was ready to help Brunson and his family settle back in the United States after more than two decades away.
“Sunday is going to be a time of celebration in a lot of churches around the country for sure,” Smith said.
At Brunson’s alma mater, the Christian liberal arts school Wheaton College near Chicago, news of Brunson’s freedom was announced to hundreds of students and faculty during their regular morning gathering at a campus chapel after many had attended an overnight prayer vigil.
“Applause broke out, and everyone was standing and rejoicing together,” said Mikayla Williams, an 18-year-old student at the school.
Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; editing by Lisa Shumaker, Alistair Bell and Diane Craft