White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced on Wednesday that the United States will impose sanctions on Turkish officials in response to the imprisonment of American pastor Andrew Brunson in Turkey.
"At the president’s direction, the Department of Treasury is sanctioning Turkey’s Minister of Justice and Minister of Interior, both of whom played leading roles in the arrest and detention of pastor Brunson," Sanders said. "As a result, any property or interest in property of both ministers within U.S. jurisdiction is blocked and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them."
"We’ve seen no evidence that Pastor Brunson has done anything wrong and we believe he is a victim of unfair and unjust detention by the government of Turkey," Sanders stated.
The sanctions are directed at Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu. A U.S. Treasury Department press release said the officials "serve as leaders of Turkish government organizations responsible for implementing Turkey’s serious human rights abuses." Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin called Brunson’s detention "simply unacceptable."
Brunson is an evangelical pastor from North Carolina who was arrested by Turkish authorities in 2016 after the failed coup attempt. He was accused of having ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party and U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is alleged by the Turkish government to have been behind much of the unrest.
On Tuesday, a Turkish court refused to release Brunson from house arrest or lift his travel ban, stating there has been no change in the "strong criminal suspicion" against the pastor.
Brunson’s situation received attention at the State Department’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom last week. Vice President Mike Pence urged Turkey to release Brunson or face consequences.
"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," the vice president said.
Nevertheless, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the U.S. "cannot make Turkey back down with sanctions," and warned the U.S. risks losing "a strong and sincere partner like Turkey."