Turkey says it strongly protests the decision by the United States to impose sanctions on two of its government officials over the detention of a U.S. pastor accused of aiding terrorists.
Turkey’s foreign ministry said Wednesday that the decision “neither complies with state seriousness, nor is it explicable within the terms of law and justice.”
The statement encourages the United States to reverse its decision and promises “an equivalent response to this aggressive attitude will be given without delay.”
The statement late Wednesday followed an announcement by the U.S. Treasury Department that it has targeted two Turkish government officials for sanctions following Turkey’s refusal to release U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson from house arrest ahead of his trial.
The Treasury Department announced the move Wednesday, saying Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu are the targets of the sanctions that will freeze any U.S. assets owned by the two men and prohibit U.S. citizens from making financial transactions with them.
Gul responded on Twitter: “I have neither a tree planted nor one penny in the U.S. or any other country outside of Turkey.”
The Treasury statement said Gul and Soylu played leading roles in the organizations responsible for Brunson’s arrest and detention over the past 21 months.
“Pastor Brunson’s unjust detention and continued prosecution by Turkish officials is simply unacceptable. President [Donald] Trump has made it abundantly clear that the United States expects Turkey to release him immediately,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in the statement.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also weighed in, saying in a statement that “the Turkish government refused to release Pastor Brunson after numerous conversations between President Trump and President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, and my conversations with Foreign Minister Cavusoglu. President Trump concluded that these sanctions are the appropriate action.”
Meanwhile, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said at a briefing Wednesday: “The president has been closely following the ongoing situation in Turkey involving Pastor Brunson. 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.”
On Tuesday, a Turkish court rejected an appeal for Brunson to be released from house arrest while awaiting trial.
Brunson is next expected in court October 12 to defend against charges of helping a network led by U.S.-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, which Turkey blames for a failed 2016 coup against Erdogan. Brunson is also charged with supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The 50-year-old pastor, who denies the charges, could face up to 35 years in prison if convicted.
The detention of Brunson, an evangelical pastor from Black Mountain, North Carolina, has strained relations between Turkey and the U.S., both NATO allies.
Trump has repeatedly demanded Brunson’s release. The U.S. president has tweeted that Brunson’s detention is “a total disgrace” and added, “He has done nothing wrong, and his family needs him!”
Brunson is among tens of thousands of people Erdogan detained on similar charges during the state of emergency he declared following the failed coup in 2016.
Turkey specialist Howard Eissenstat, associate professor of history at St. Lawrence University in New York, told VOA that the sanctions fit into a long-term effort by the United States to build a tougher stance on Turkey. But he said Wednesday’s move is “unlikely to be successful — it is too public and too focused on a single U.S. citizen, Brunson, rather than the more basic principle: Our citizens and staff should not be detained on clearly political grounds.”
He added, “We’ve made this very personal, and we’ve sacrificed the moral high ground by only talking about one case.”
The state of emergency ended July 18, but the Turkish legislature passed a new “anti-terror” law last week that gives authorities more power to detain suspects and restore public order.
VOA’s Nike Ching contributed to this report.