The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has taken firm action against two Turkish officials who were largely responsible for the jailing of an American missionary. Pastor Andrew Brunson remains under house arrest in Turkey after spending almost two years behind bars for trumped-up charges relating to an attempt to overthrow the government.
Turkey’s Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu were both targeted with economic sanctions, according to a statement released by the treasury on Aug. 1, which noted that both individuals “played leading roles in the organizations responsible for the arrest and detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson.”
The statement continued: “These officials serve as leaders of Turkish government organizations responsible for implementing Turkey’s serious human rights abuses, and are being targeted pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13818, “Blocking the Property of Persons Involved in Serious Human Rights Abuse or Corruption,” which builds upon Treasury’s Global Magnitsky Act authorities.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that Pastor Brunson’s “unjust detention and continued prosecution by Turkish officials is simply unacceptable.” He added: “President Trump has made it abundantly clear that the United States expects Turkey to release him immediately.”
The specific sanctions mean that “any property, or interest in property, of both Turkey’s Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Turkey’s Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu within U.S. jurisdiction is blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them,” according to the press release.
The Treasury declared that Andrew Brunson had “been a victim of unfair and unjust detention by the Government of Turkey.”
One of President Trump’s chief legal advisors, Jay Sekulow, has confirmed that the White House is absolutely committed to getting pastor Andrew Brunson released from Turkey, where he has been imprisoned for almost two years.
“The President of the United States has been incredibly engaged in directly securing his release,” Sekulow told Fox News Tuesday. “He has told me on numerous occasions he is not resting until… Andrew Brunson, a pastor for 23 years in Turkey, is returned to the United States.”
Jay Sekulow: “The president is not resting until… Andrew Brunson, a pastor for 23 years in turkey, is returned to the United States.” pic.twitter.com/LmjrqdRUU0
— Fox News (@FoxNews) July 31, 2018
Yesterday, Sekulow, who is also the Chief Counsel Chief Counsel at the American Center for Law & Justice, took to Twitter to declare that the United States is “engaged in the highest levels of diplomatic relations to bring Pastor Andrew home to America.”
American #PastorAndrew was removed from his Turkish prison cell & returned to his house in #Turkey. Sign & RT. We won’t stop fighting until the pastor is safely home in America: https://t.co/26Uu52FBY1 pic.twitter.com/5LhtJnBxn9
— Jay Sekulow (@JaySekulow) July 30, 2018
The Trump administration has been ramping up pressure on Turkey in recent weeks, urging President Erdogan to pardon Brunson, who was jailed amid far-fetched charges that he was somehow plotting to overthrow the government.
The United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being. He is suffering greatly. This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2018
However, despite rumors that a deal had been struck between the two countries to secure Brunson’s release, President Erdogan flatly denied such speculation.
According to CNN, the proposed deal was something of a prisoner exchange, involving the release of Turkish national, Ebru Ozkhan, who was being held on suspicion of aiding Palestinian terror group, Hamas — she was allowed to leave Israel for Turkey in mid-July. At this time, Brunson was released to house arrest but was still prohibited from fleeing the country and returning to the United States. But Erdogan responded quickly, declaring that he would not be bullied into a deal.
“We told the Americans that they could help us with getting Ebru (Ozkan) … but we never said ‘and in exchange we will give you Brunson,'” Erdogan told state broadcaster TRT. “We never made Brunson a topic of negotiation. Instead of respecting the Turkish judiciary, they are turning this into talk of sanctions.”
But he wasn’t done yet. Erdogan firmly urged the U.S. to shift its attitude if it wanted to keep Turkey as a “strong and sincere partner.”
“You cannot make Turkey take a step back with sanctions,” he added. “They need to know the following: we are not tied with an umbilical cord to the U.S.”
Erdogan then addressed the president personally: “The change in attitude is Trump’s problem, not mine,” he added.
In a final slight against the United States, Erdogan demanded delivery of the F-35 fighter jets he insisted his government has already paid for. He even threatened to take the U.S. to court over the military equipment.
“Now they’ve started threatening us with one more thing. They say they may not give us the F-35s,” he said. “We told them we’ll go to international arbitration.”
Following up on Trump’s long-standing determination to have Brunson returned to the United States, Vice President Mike Pence also sent a bold and clear message to President Erdogan, demanding the pastor’s immediate release.
In remarks delivered at last week’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, Pence said Pastor Brunson “is an innocent man,” adding that there was “no credible evidence against him.”
“Our entire administration has worked tirelessly to ensure Pastor Brunson’s release,” he added.