US Pastor Andrew Craig Brunson has boarded a private jet flying to Germany, after leaving his residence in the Turkish province of Izmir. The Izmir court on Friday sentenced Brunson to three years and 45 days in prison, but he will not serve the prison sentence.
The court took into account the time he spent in custody, and ended his house arrest and travel restrictions, the Anadolu news agency said. Hours later, Brunson was reportedly taken to Izmir airport and flown out of Turkey, where he has lived for more than two decades.
The priest was arrested on December 9, 2016 on charges of being a member of the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO). On July 25, citing Brunson's health problems, the Izmir court ordered him to be transferred from prison to house arrest.
The charges against Brunson included spying for the PKK, which was included as a terrorist organization by the US and Turkey and FETO, the group behind a failed coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016. In July, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his government would not back down and be willing "continue the way" if the United States imposes sanctions because an American priest is detained.
Erdogan ended his silence on July 28 in connection with an increase in diplomatic disputes involving Brunson (50 years).
"They cannot make Turkey retreat with sanctions," Erdogan said, as quoted by Turkish media during his visit to South Africa.
"The US must not forget that if the country does not change its attitude, the US will lose a strong and sincere partner like Turkey," the Turkish president warned.
On July 26, US President Donald Trump announced possible sanctions against Turkey, a key US ally in NATO, because of his treatment of Brunson. The priest, who is from Black Mountain, North Carolina, has lived in Turkey for 23 years and heads the Izmir Awakening Church.