A Turkish court ruled on Friday to release the U.S. evangelical Christian pastor at the centre of a bitter diplomatic row between Ankara and Washington.
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.
US broadcaster NBC said on Thursday Ankara and Washington had reached a secret deal for Brunson to be released Friday, with some charges against him dropped, in exchange for the US easing "economic pressure" that included sanctions that have hammered the lira. But Ankara says its judiciary is "independent" and US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said she was "not aware" of any such deal.
Brunson, 50, was charged with links to Kurdish militants and network of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen. On 15 July 2016, the network of Gülen attempted to topple down Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan by a military coup but it failed.
Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years, had rejected the espionage and terror-related charges and strongly maintained his innocence.
He again denied accusations that his church aided Kurdish militants, saying he had handed over a list of Syrian refugees the congregation had helped and added that Turkish authorities would have identified any terrorists.
"We helped everyone, Kurds, Arabs, without showing any discrimination," he said.
US President Donald Trump said Friday Brunson would be returned "soon" to the United States.
"PASTOR BRUNSON JUST RELEASED. WILL BE HOME SOON!" Trump tweeted.