The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned Turkey’s Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu on Wednesday over their leading roles in the arrest and detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson.
“Pastor Brunson’s unjust detention and continued prosecution by Turkish officials is simply unacceptable,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said upon announcing the sanctions. “President Trump has made it abundantly clear that the United States expects Turkey to release him immediately.”
These officials have been targeted under Executive Order (E.O.) 13818, which calls for the “Blocking the Property of Persons Involved in Serious Human Rights Abuse or Corruption.” EO 13818 builds upon the Global Magnitsky Act of 2016, which allows the United States government to sanction individuals, companies or corporations involved in corruption or human-rights abuses internationally and permits the seizure of their assets in the United States, prohibits them from conducting business with anyone in the U.S. and also bans them from traveling to the U.S.
Both Gul and Soylu are being sanctioned under EO 13818 for “being the leader of an entity that has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, serious human rights abuse.”
Pastor Brunson was arrested in Izmir, Turkey, in October 2016 without evidence to support charges of aiding armed terrorist organizations and obtaining confidential government information for political and military espionage that were brought against him. Despite having served for decades as a Christian pastor in Izmir, Brunson stood accused of allegedly aiding an Islamic terrorist association and a Marxist Kurdish separatist group. The Treasury Department noted in its press release that he “has reportedly been a victim of unfair and unjust detention by the Government of Turkey.”
Last week, Israel confirmed U.S. media reports that President Donald Trump asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to release Ebru Özkan, a Turkish woman accused of Hamas ties, in a July 14 phone call. Trump’s advocacy was allegedly meant to create goodwill with Ankara and help urge the Turkish government to release Brunson.
Özkan was released on July 16.
“I can confirm that there was such a request by President Trump,” an Israeli official said on condition of anonymity.
Turkey had denied these reports. Turkey’s relationship with the U.S. and Israel has deteriorated recently.
In May 2017, Turkish security personnel attacked protesters outside the Turkish embassy for displayed flags for the Kurdish People’s Democratic Union (PYD), which the Turkish government sees as a political arm of the violent PKK separatist party and considers to be a terrorist organization.