The US Treasury Department on Wednesday hit Turkey’s justice and interior ministers with sanctions over the case of an American pastor being tried on terror charges.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the Trump administration will sanction Turkey’s Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu over the holding of 50-year-old Andrew Craig Brunson.
“We believe he’s a victim of unfair and unjust attention by the government of Turkey,” Sanders told journalists, referring to Brunson, who is at the center of a bitter diplomatic spat between NATO allies.
An evangelical pastor, Brunson, was arrested in December 2016 and jailed.
US President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence had threatened Turkey with painful sanctions if the pastor was not freed.
“Pastor Brunson’s unjust detention and continued prosecution by Turkish officials is simply unacceptable,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a statement. “President Trump has made it abundantly clear that the United States expects Turkey to release him immediately.”
Earlier Wednesday Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed his country would not give in to threats from the US over Brunson and accused Washington of showing an “evangelist, Zionist mentality.”
Pence said last week that Brunson was “a victim of religious persecution” but Erdogan insisted that Turkey did not have the “slightest problem with religious minorities.”
“It is not possible for us to accept that America gets up, especially with an evangelist, Zionist mentality, and uses this kind of threat-filled language,” Erdogan added.
Brunson, who led a Protestant church in the Aegean city of Izmir, was placed under house arrest last week after nearly two years in jail.