US pastor not freed due to pressure: Turkey’s Celik

By Ismihan Ozguven and Ibrahim Erikan   

ADANA, Turkey

Turkey’s release yesterday of a U.S. pastor was not due to any outside pressure but the result of the processes of the independent Turkish judiciary, said the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party’s spokesman on Saturday.

“Despite these impositions and threats” over the case, “none of the Republic of Turkey’s institutions including” the presidency took any action on the case of Andrew Brunson due to pressure, Omer Celik told reporters in the southern province of Adana.

“At this stage, the judicial process has been completed,” he added.  

He rebuffed critics’ claims that Brunson was freed due to outside pressure, saying such critics had “not followed the process closely.”  

Brunson was arrested in December 2016 and charged in the Aegean province of Izmir with being a member of the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), the group behind a defeated coup earlier that year.

After being transferred from jail to house arrest this July, Brunson on Friday was sentenced to just over three years in prison, but released due to time served and his good behavior in custody.

The charges against him included spying for both FETO and the PKK, a group recognized as terrorist by the U.S. and EU which is responsible for some 40,000 deaths in Turkey, including women and children. 

Disappearance of Saudi journalist 

On the probe of the Oct. 2 disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Celik said: “There are very speculative claims on the murder of a respected journalist.” 

“There is a focus on some names, all of them are claims, all of them will be thoroughly investigated,” he added.  

Saying that murdering a journalist is an unforgivable act that cannot be covered up, he warned that if this happened, “the consequences will certainly be serious.” 

On the same day that the Saudi journalist arrived at the consulate, 15 other Saudis, including several officials, arrived in Istanbul on two planes and visited the building while Khashoggi was also inside, police sources said. All of the identified individuals have since left Turkey. 

Saudi authorities have yet to give a clear explanation of Khashoggi’s fate, while several countries — particularly Turkey, the U.S., and the U.K — are pressing the case to be cleared up as soon as possible.