A Turkish court has ordered that Pastor Andrew Brunson be placed under house arrest and released from prison after being jailed for nearly 21 months.
The Turkish pro-government news outlet Daily Sabah reports that a penal court in western Izmir issued an order for Brunson's release, allowing him to return to his home in Izmir on the condition that he can't leave his house or the country.
Brunson was seen leaving the prison following the court's order on Wednesday. Television footage reportedly showed him being driven away from the prison with a police escort.
The news comes after a Turkish court ruled last week at Brunson's third hearing that he was to remain in prison until his next hearing in September. According to the Daily Sabah, the new order for house arrest comes after a plea by Brunson and his lawyer over his poor health. The court reportedly came to the conclusion that Brunson's could be effectively detained under house arrest.
Brunson's family and U.S. officials who had visited him in prison have expressed concern with the fact that Brunson has lost at least 50 pounds and is suffering from anxiety and depression.
The American Center for Law and Justice, which represents the North Carolina pastor's family, made the announcement Wednesday morning, just one day after Brunson's daughter gave an impassioned speech at the first-ever United States State Department Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom.
ACLJ Chief Counsel and a lawyer of President Donald Trump, Jay Sekulow, said in a statement that the house arrest is a "critical first step" to what he believes will "result in the freedom of Pastor Brunson" to return to his family in the U.S.
"The president has played a critical role in securing the freedom of Pastor Brunson," Sekulow declared. "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 U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which has called for Brunson's release, welcomed the news but stressed that placing Brunson under house arrest "is not enough."
"The Turkish government has deprived this innocent man of his due process rights and liberty for too long, and it must completely release him," USCIRF Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga said in a statement. "If it fails to do so, the Trump administration and the Congress should respond strongly and swiftly with targeted sanctions against the authorities responsible."