(RNS) — The Trump administration has sanctioned two high-level officials in Turkey for what it says is their role in the case of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson, who faces terrorism-related charges.
“At the president’s direction, the Department of Treasury is sanctioning Turkey’s minister of justice and minister of the interior, both of whom played leading roles in the arrest and detention of Pastor Brunson,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced at her press briefing Wednesday (Aug. 1).
Under the sanctions, any assets the Turkish officials have in the U.S. will be frozen. American individuals and businesses are barred from having financial transactions with them.
The Treasury Department said in a statement that Turkey’s Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu lead governmental organizations that are “responsible for implementing Turkey’s serious human rights abuses.”
The moves follow Tuesday reports that a Turkish court denied Brunson’s latest appeal on charges of espionage and “committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member,” which the Trump administration says are false. The 50-year-old evangelical pastor from North Carolina was moved from prison to house arrest last week (July 25) but President Trump and other administration officials said they were not satisfied with that development. Trump has called for Brunson to be released.
After Trump and Vice President Mike Pence had threatened sanctions, Turkey presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Tuesday: “We advise our American friends to avoid steps which might harm the relations between Turkey and the U.S. by making this issue a topic of internal politics, and which might lead to a new crisis of trust.”
The sanctions announcement came on the same day when Trump hosted faith leaders, including unofficial evangelical advisers Paula White and Harry Jackson, at a White House meeting that addressed U.S. prison reform.
Sanders said later in the Wednesday briefing that Trump had discussed Brunson’s detention “on several occasions” with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“I think you can see in the actions that the president has made today that he’s not happy with Turkey’s decision” to not release Brunson, Sanders said.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., praised the step in a tweet, saying, “As a nation, we owe it to those who are being jailed unjustly to hold their Turkish perpetrators accountable.”
Brunson’s next court date is scheduled for Oct. 12. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.