White House Sanctions Turkey Officials Over Detention of US Pastor

August 1, 2018 Updated: August 1, 2018    

The administration of President Donald Trump sanctioned two top Turkish officials on Aug. 1 for their roles in the detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson.

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence both warned Turkey last week that the United States would issue sanctions unless Turkey frees Brunson, who is currently under house arrest after spending a year and a half in prison.

The Treasury Department’s sanctions target Turkey’s Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu. The pair played key roles in the departments that arrested and detained Brunson, the department noted in a statement.

“Pastor Brunson’s unjust detention and continued prosecution by Turkish officials is simply unacceptable,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “President Trump has made it abundantly clear that the United States expects Turkey to release him immediately.”

Brunson was arrested in Izmir, Turkey, in October 2016 and accused of espionage and aiding terrorist organizations. Brunson denies all charges.

The Treasury accuses Gul and Soylu of serious human rights violations. The sanctions mean that all of the pair’s property and assets in the United States are blocked and Americans are prohibited from transacting with them.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters at the White House on August 1 that the Treasury Department acted on an order from the president. Trump spoke to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan about the pastor on several occasions, according to Sanders.

“We’ve seen no evidence that Pastor Brunson has done anything wrong and we believe he is a victim of unfair and unjust attention by the government of Turkey,” Sanders said.

The Turkish Ministry of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last week, Turkey dismissed warnings of sanctions from Trump and Pence.

“Noone dictates Turkey,” Turkey’s minister of foreign affairs, Mevlut Cavusoglu, wrote on Twitter. “We will never tolerate threats from anybody. Rule of law is for everyone; no exception.”

Trump had issued repeated calls for Brunson’s release and called the pastor’s detention “a total disgrace.” Pence has said that “there is no credible evidence against” Brunson.

American officials believed that a deal was in place to free Brunson, but when he was moved to house arrest on July 26, Trump and Pence met and decided that sanctions are in order to force the issue.

Washington and Ankara are NATO allies.

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