USA hits Turkish ministers with sanctions over pastor Andrew Brunson

Ann Santiago
August 2, 2018

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders called Brunson's detention "unfair", saying that Trump had spoken with Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan about the pastor.

The Trump administration has been pressuring Turkey for some time to release Brunson.

In October 2016, after living in the country for 23 years, they found a note on their door telling them to report to the migration management office for what they thought would be a visit connected to their visa renewal. While negotiations for his release were ongoing, President Donald Trump promised "large sanctions" in a tweet Wednesday.

"Pastor Brunson's unjust detention and continued prosecution by Turkish officials is simply unacceptable", Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement Wednesday.

Last month Trump hit out on Twitter at Turkey over its decision to keep the pastor in custody after a Turkish court denied a request for the release of Andrew Brunson.

Pompeo, en route to Singapore, said in Anchorage, Alaska, that the Turkish government refused to release Brunson "after numerous conversations between President Trump and President Erdogan and my conversations with Foreign Minister (Mevlut) Cavusoglu".

Pence said last week that Brunson was "a victim of religious persecution" but Erdogan insisted that Turkey did not have the "slightest problem with religious minorities".

Brunson's supporters maintain that the charges against him were fabricated.

"We join with our coalition partners - In Defense of Christians and the Hellenic American Leadership Council - in welcoming the Administration's launch of a sanctions regime against Turkey", said Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of America. "Suffice it to say I think these are totally appropriate measures to take in order to deal with the Turkish government's hostage taking", he said, "not only of Pastor Brunson but also other Americans and the US government's local employees".

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevut Cavusoglu claimed on Wednesday the extraordinary use of financial sanctions against Ankara, which is a U.S. allied government, would not be left without retaliation as it constitutes a "hostile stance".

The lira, Turkey's currency, fell to record lows amid signs of possible sanctions.

Brunson risks up to 35 years in jail over charges that he acted on behalf of two groups viewed as terrorists by Ankara: the movement led by Gulen and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The White House has not specified what sanctions might be imposed on Turkey.

US officials, for their part, show no inclination to accede to their North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally's demand, either.

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