Andrew Brunson
U.S. pastor Andrew Craig Brunson escorted by Turkish plainclothes police officers arrives at his house in Izmir, July 25, 2018. Getty Images/ AFP

American pastor Andrew Brunson, who was held in Turkish prison for nearly two years on terrorism-related charges, was released from jail Wednesday on court’s orders and was placed on house arrest as his trial continues.

“This is a critical first step that we believe will result in the freedom of Pastor Brunson so he can return to the United States and be reunited with his family,” stated Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which is representing Brunson, said, Christianity Today reported. “[President Donald Trump] has played a critical role in securing the freedom of Pastor Brunson. We have worked closely with the President on this matter and are grateful for his efforts. We look forward to the ultimate release of Pastor Brunson.”

The pastor’s release comes three months after Trump tweeted on April 17: “Pastor Andrew Brunson, a fine gentleman and Christian leader in the United States, is on trial and being persecuted in Turkey for no reason. They call him a Spy, but I am more a Spy than he is. Hopefully he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!”

Although Trump did not tweet regarding Brunson’s release, Vice President Mike Pence took to social media to confirm that he had spoken to the pastor and assured him that “@POTUS & our entire Admin will keep working to secure his full release & get him back to the USA #FreePastorBrunson”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed similar sentiments through his message on Twitter:

Brunson, a native of North Carolina and a longtime resident of Turkey — working as the pastor of a small church in Izmir — faced charges including espionage and collusion with terrorist groups for allegedly participating in the Fethullah Gülen movement, which is believed to have organized the failed coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the summer of 2016.

The arrest of Brunson has fueled the deteriorating diplomatic relations between Turkey and the U.S., with both nations arguing over the war in Syria and reports of Turkey planning to purchase a Russian missile defense system, AL reported.

Although the pastor was released from prison, he was forbidden to leave Turkey. The pastor has denied all the charges against him, calling them “shameful and disgusting.” He faces up to 35 years in prison if convicted.

In last week’s hearing, Brunson told the Turkish court that he longed to see his family. “It is really hard to stay in jail and be separated from my wife and children,” he said, Reuters reported. “There is no concrete evidence against me. The disciples of Jesus suffered in his name; now it is my turn. I am an innocent man on all these charges. I reject them. I know why I am here. I am here to suffer in Jesus’ name.”

Following his release, Jacqueline Funari, Brunson’s daughter said: “I cannot tell you how proud I am of my father and what an example of Christ’s love he continues to be to the world as he is wrongly imprisoned for his faith.” She added she was still waiting for her “father-daughter dance.”

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) condemned the charges against Brunson and called for his immediate release. On July 18, they issued the following statement regarding the pastor’s case:

“The government of Turkey continues to make a mockery of justice in its treatment of Pastor Brunson. Today I was hoping to see the judge order his complete release and put an end to the miscarriage of justice that Pastor Brunson’s entire case represents. Turkish authorities still have not provided one good reason for depriving Pastor Brunson of his liberties. The Trump Administration and the Congress should continue to apply pressure, including using targeted sanctions against officials connected to this case, until Pastor Brunson is released.”