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Trump Admin. sanctions Turkish officials over detained US pastor they won’t release

President Donald Trump (U.S. Joint Chief of Staff/Flickr)
August 01, 2018

The White House announced Wednesday that the U.S. Treasury is issuing economic sanctions against Turkey over the imprisoned American pastor Turkish officials refuse to release.

The sanctions are against Turkey’s Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu for “leading roles in the organizations responsible for the arrest and detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson,” the White House said Wednesday afternoon.

Brunson was arrested by Turkish officials in 2016 during widespread arrests following a failed military coup, Time Magazine reported.

Thousands were arrested, including Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s opponents, activists and those in the media.

President Trump tweeted last week: “The United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being. He is suffering greatly. This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!”

Brunson was charged with being a spy in connection with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), as was Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, who was suspected of being behind the coup attempt.

The spying charges can carry a prison sentence of up to 35 years. Brunson denied the charges, with his lawyer calling them “totally unfounded,” and blaming the arrest on Brunson’s Christian faith.

American evangelicals have rallied behind Brunson, angered over what appears to be Turkey persecuting Brunson over his faith.

Last Wednesday, Brunson was released due to health reasons after serving 21 months in prison. He was placed on house arrest, and Turkey continues to prohibit his release.

Vice President Mike Pence, along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, said Brunson’s house arrest release was “not good enough.”

Pence demanded Brunson’s return home and promised sanctions against Turkey “until Pastor Andrew Brunson is free.”

Turkey doesn’t appear to be budging in the face of the threats.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu‏ tweeted: “We will never tolerate threats from anybody. Rule of law is for everyone; no exception.”

President Erdogan previously suggested that Turkey may trade Brunson for the Pennsylvania-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, who they believe to be responsible for the coup attempt.

Last month, lawmakers considered attempts to block the transfer of F-35 jets to Turkey due to compromised U.S.-Turkish relations and Erdogan’s “reckless governance,” along with Brunson’s unjust detainment.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed legislation this week to impose financial sanctions on Turkey until Brunson and other U.S. citizens are released, NPR reported.

Chairman of the committee, Sen. Bob Corker, said: “We never wanted this bill to be necessary, but we warned the Turkish government that there would be consequences if it did not cease its unjust detention and harassment of U.S. citizens and locally employed Embassy staff.”

No details have been provided to elaborate on the sanctions imposed on Turkey, nor a deadline established for Brunson’s release.