The US administration has stated that economic sanctions imposed on Turkish Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül and Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu will continue until Ankara releases American pastor Andrew Brunson.
The US Treasury Department on Wednesday sanctioned Gül and Soylu over the continued detention of Brunson.
“The U.S. government imposed harsh economic sanctions on Turkey and will continue until President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan and the Turkish government release Pastor Brunson and return this innocent man of faith to the U.S.,” US Vice President Mike Pence tweeted.
Last week US President Donald Trump and Pence threatened to impose “large sanctions” on Turkey for their long-term detention of Brunson.
Ankara on Wednesday protested the decision by the US Treasury to impose sanctions on the two ministers. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said the “US attempt to impose sanctions on our two ministers will not go unanswered.”
“An equivalent response to this aggressive attitude will be given without delay,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a written statement late Wednesday.
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 Gülen movement, which is accused by the Turkish government of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016, an accusation strongly denied by the movement.
A Turkish court last week released from prison Brunson, who faces 35 years, 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.