The United States on Wednesday sanctioned Turkey’s Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül and Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu over the imprisonment of pastor Andrew Brunson, with White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders saying the two men played leading roles in his 2016 arrest and later detention, Reuters reported.
“Pastor Brunson’s unjust detention and continued prosecution by Turkish officials is simply unacceptable,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a subsequent statement formally announcing the financial restrictions. “President [Donald] Trump has made it abundantly clear that the United States expects Turkey to release him immediately.”
“We’ve seen no evidence that Pastor Brunson has done anything wrong,” Sanders said.
Prior to the announcement of the sanctions of the two Turkish ministers, Bloomberg reported that the US had prepared a list of Turkish entities and individuals to target should it decide to impose sanctions on Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government for imprisoning US citizens and employees of its diplomatic mission.
Turkey’s lira plunged to a record low of 4.9985 after Bloomberg News reported the possible sanctions, extending its decline to 4.5 percent since July 26, when Vice President Mike Pence threatened sanctions over the Brunson case.
“If Turkey does not take immediate action to free this innocent man of faith and send him home to America, the United States will impose significant sanctions on Turkey until Pastor Andrew Brunson is free,” Pence tweeted last Thursday.
Brunson, a North Carolina native, had been in custody since October 2016 after he and his wife were detained on immigration violation charges. At the time, the Brunsons were running a small Christian church in İzmir. They had lived in Turkey for 23 years.
Prosecutors accuse Brunson of activities on behalf of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as well as the group inspired by Gülen. The Gülen movement strongly denies any involvement in the abortive putsch.
A Turkish court last week released from prison Brunson, putting him under house arrest due to “health problems.”
The US administration immediately welcomed the ruling but said it was not enough, calling on Turkish authorities to resolve his case immediately.