WASHINGTON – The US government announced on Wednesday the imposition of economic sanctions on two Turkish cabinet ministers for their roles in the arrest in their country of US Protestant pastor Andrew Brunson.
“We believe he’s a victim of unfair and unjust attention by the government of Turkey,” said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders in announcing the sanctions against Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, going on to once again demand Brunson’s release.
Relations between Turkey and the US are going through a tense period due to the Brunson case, after he was arrested in October 2016 and accused of terrorism, a charge he denies. He remains under house arrest in Turkey while awaiting trial.
Washington accused Gül and Soylu of “serious human rights abuses.”
As a consequence of the sanctions, the assets of the two government ministers that are under US jurisdiction have been frozen and they are prohibited from undertaking financial transactions with US entities, the Treasury Department said.
Sanders said that President Donald Trump had brought up the Brunson case to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on several occasions and is not satisfied with Ankara’s decision not to release him.
The Turkish Attorney General’s office is demanding a sentence of up to 20 years behind bars for Brunson, claiming that he has links with the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the Kurdish secessionist guerrillas in Turkey, and is also linked to Islamist pastor Fethullah Gülen, in exile in the US, whom Ankara claims launched the failed 2016 coup d’etat against Erdogan.
Tensions between the two NATO allies have also increased due to the refusal of the US to extradite Gülen due to a lack of conclusive evidence regarding his participation in the failed coup.
Erdogan this week denied that he considers Brunson a bargaining chip, despite the fact that he himself had suggested last year the possibility of “exchanging one pastor for the other,” apparently referring to a potential deal to swap Brunson for Gülen.