An American pastor held in a Turkish prison for nearly two years will be allowed to remain under house arrest as his trial on terror and espionage charges continues.
Andrew Brunson, an Evangelical pastor from North Carolina who has done missionary work in Turkey for 23 years, has been the subject of calls from President Donald Trump and other U.S. government officials for his release.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed Brunson’s move out of prison in a tweet Wednesday, calling it "long overdue news," but demanded that the Turkish government "resolve his case immediately in a transparent and fair manner."
Brunson, 50, has been charged with espionage as well as aiding outlawed Kurdish militants and a Turkish cleric based in the U.S. who has been accused of fomenting a 2016 coup attempt - allegations that he has denied and that the U.S. has said are not credible.
He has been in custody since October 2016 and faces up to 35 years in prison.
Vice President Mike Pence spoke with Brunson by phone Wednesday night, saying the "entire" Trump administration "will keep working to secure his full release." Pompeo added in a statement late Wednesday that Brunson's transfer to house arrest was a "positive development," but "not enough."
"We call on Turkish authorities to resolve his case immediately in a transparent and fair manner," Pompeo said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has previously called for a swap -- Brunson for Fetullah Gulen, the cleric and U.S. legal resident who Erdogan has accused of leading the coup against him, a charge Gulen denies.
State Department officials declined to comment on what, if anything, was given in exchange for Brunson's release from prison.
Turkish media reported that Brunson was moved for "health reasons." U.S. officials made no mention of his health, but when Brunson appeared in court in April, he said he had suffered from a psychological breakdown and was on anti-depressants. He had also lost 50 pounds while in prison, according to his attorneys.
When Brunson appeared in court in April, he was suffering from a psychological breakdown, lost more than 50 pounds and was on anti-depressants, according to his attorneys.
As recently as last week, a Turkish court denied Brunson’s release, with President Trump slamming the decision as "a total disgrace." Trump also directly called on Erdogan to "do something to free this wonderful Christian husband & father. He has done nothing wrong, and his family needs him!"
The two leaders last spoke on Monday, July 16.
Brunson’s move to house arrest comes amid growing tensions between the U.S. and its NATO ally Turkey. The Senate has also considered bipartisan legislation to restrict loans to Turkey until it releases over a dozen U.S. citizens it currently has in captivity, including Brunson.
The Trump administration is holding its first ever summit on religious freedom this week and have highlighted Brunson's case -- and his evangelical faith -- as a sign of a growing threat to global religious freedom