Pastor Andrew Brunson, the American who was detained in Turkey for two years before his release over the weekend, said he is “hated” in the country where he had lived and worked for more than 20 years in large part because of the Turkish government’s accusation that he spied and was linked to terrorism.
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“At this point I’m one of the most hated men in Turkey, probably,” Brunson told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” Tuesday.
Brunson, 50, was a Christian evangelist in Turkey for more than 20 years before he was arrested in October 2016 and accused by the Turkish government of espionage and ties to terrorist groups. He, his lawyers and the U.S. deny those charges.
“We were never involved in anything political,” Brunson told Stephanopoulos. He said he and his wife were shocked by their arrest, which happened on their oldest son’s birthday.
Prior to his release over the weekend, Brunson’s case had created a deep rift in U.S.-Turkish relations, with the Trump administration heavily committed to securing his freedom and punishing its NATO ally with economic penalties for not doing so. An evangelical Christian pastor, he had also become a rallying cry for religious freedom advocates in the U.S.
The Turkish court sentenced him Friday to three years and one a half months, but given his time served and that it was his first arrest, his house arrest and travel ban were lifted. He was flown out of the country that Friday on a U.S. military aircraft, stopping in Germany for a medical evacuation before landing in Washington Saturday. There, he met with President Trump in an Oval Office welcome celebration.