US Christian pastor leaves Turkish prison after court rules for house arrest

ISTANBUL, July 25 (Reuters) - The American Christian pastor on trial in Turkey on terrorism charges left prison on Wednesday, hours after a Turkish court ruled he be transferred from jail to house arrest, a step that could help reduce some tension between the NATO allies.

Andrew Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina who has worked in Turkey for more than 20 years, was escorted out of his prison by officials in the coastal city of Izmir, live television footage from broadcaster DHA showed. He departed shortly afterwards in a convoy of cars.

Brunson was detained in October 2016 and indicted on charges of helping the group which Ankara says was behind a failed military coup earlier that year. His lawyer Ismail Cem Halavurt confirmed Turkish media reports that the court had ruled for him to be moved to house arrest.

RELATED: The case of jailed pastor Andrew Brunson

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The case of jailed pastor Andrew Brunson
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The case of jailed pastor Andrew Brunson
This undated photo made available by the Dogan News Agency on March 13, 2018 shows Andrew Brunson, an American pastor, in Izmir. Andrew Brunson, an American pastor held in Turkey for one and a half years in a case that further strained relations between Ankara and Washington, is to go on trial on April 16 on terror-related charges. Brunson, who ran a church in the western city of Izmir, was detained by the Turkish authorities in October 2016 and then remanded in custody. He is charged in the indictment with carrying out activities on behalf of the group led by preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara says masterminded the failed coup in 2016, and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Both are banned by Turkey as terror groups. / AFP PHOTO / DHA / STR / Turkey OUT (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Cem Halavurt, the lawyer of jailed American pastor Andrew Brunson, speaks during an interview on April 15, 2018 in Izmir. American pastor Andrew Brunson, who ran a church in the western city of Izmir, will go on trial in Turkey on April 16, 2018, on terror-related charges after spending the last one-and-a-half years behind bars, in a case that has raised friction between Ankara and Washington. He is charged in the indictment with carrying out activities on behalf of the group led by preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara says masterminded the failed coup in 2016, and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Both are banned by Turkey as terror groups. / AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
Ismail Cem Halavurt (C), the lawyer of jailed US pastor Andrew Brunson, arrives for the trial of his client, held on charges of aiding terror groups, in Aliaga, north of Izmir, on April 16, 2018. An American pastor went on trial in Turkey on April 16 on terror-related charges after spending the last one-and-a-half years behind bars, in a case that has increased friction between Ankara and Washington. Andrew Brunson, who ran a church in the western city of Izmir and was detained in October 2016, was present in court as the trial opened in the town of Aliaga north of Izmir. / AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
US Senetor Thom Tillis speaks to the press in front of the Aliaga court and prison complex, after the trial of US pastor Andrew Brunson, held on charges of aiding terror groups, in Aliaga, north of Izmir, on April 16, 2018. An American Christian pastor who has spent the last one and a half years in jail in Turkey strongly rejected terror-related charges on April 16, 2018 as his trial got underway, in a case that has raised tensions with Washington. Andrew Brunson, who ran a protestant church in the western city of Izmir, was detained by Turkish authorities in October 2016. If convicted, he risks up to 35 years in jail. / AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
Jailed US pastor Andrew Brunson's wife Norine Brunson leaves the Aliaga court and prison complex, after the trial of US pastor Andrew Brunson, held on charges of aiding terror groups, in Aliaga, north of Izmir, on April 16, 2018. An American Christian pastor who has spent the last one and a half years in jail in Turkey strongly rejected terror-related charges on April 16, 2018 as his trial got underway, in a case that has raised tensions with Washington. Andrew Brunson, who ran a protestant church in the western city of Izmir, was detained by Turkish authorities in October 2016. If convicted, he risks up to 35 years in jail. / AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
Cem Halavurt, the lawyer of jailed American pastor Andrew Brunson,leaves the Aliaga court and prison complex, after the trial of US pastor Andrew Brunson, held on charges of aiding terror groups, in Aliaga, north of Izmir, on April 16, 2018. An American Christian pastor who has spent the last one and a half years in jail in Turkey strongly rejected terror-related charges on April 16, 2018 as his trial got underway, in a case that has raised tensions with Washington. Andrew Brunson, who ran a protestant church in the western city of Izmir, was detained by Turkish authorities in October 2016. If convicted, he risks up to 35 years in jail. / AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
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He will have to wear an electronic ankle bracelet and is banned from leaving the country, Halavurt said.

A week ago the same court rejected a call by Brunson's defense for his release. State-owned Anadolu news agency said the court decided, after re-evaluating the case, that he could leave prison on health grounds and because he would be under effective judicial control.

It said Brunson's defense had been completed and evidence for the case was almost all collected.

Brunson's detention deepened a rift between NATO allies Washington and Ankara - also at odds over the Syrian war and Turkey's plan to buy missile defenses from Russia - and financial markets took his transfer order as a positive sign.

The Turkish lira strengthened to 4.8325 against the dollar from 4.8599 before the report. Shares in Halkbank, whose former deputy general manager was convicted in January of evading U.S. sanctions on Iran, jumped 12 percent.

Brunson was indicted on charges of helping supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based cleric who Turkish authorities say masterminded the coup attempt against President Tayyip Erdogan in which 250 people were killed. He was also charged with supporting outlawed PKK Kurdish militants.

The pastor, who denies the charges, faces up to 35 years in jail if found guilty.

Erdogan has previously linked Brunson's fate to that of Gulen, whose extradition from the United States has been a long-held demand of Turkish authorities. Gulen denies any involvement in the coup bid.

President Donald Trump said in a tweet last week that Brunson was being held hostage and that Erdogan should "do something to free this wonderful Christian husband & father."

The U.S. Senate passed a bill last month including a measure that prohibits Turkey from buying F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets because of Brunson's imprisonment and Turkey's purchase of Russia's S-400 air defense system. (Reporting by Daren Butler and Tuvan Gumrukcu Writing by Dominic Evans; editing by David Stamp/Mark Heinrich)

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