Turkish ruling and minority party politicians responded with outrage Thursday to the U.S. Treasury’s decision to sanction the nation’s Justice and Interior ministers in response to the continued detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson.
Brunson was arrested in 2016 after over two decades of serving Christians in Izmir, Turkey, on charges of allegedly aiding the U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen and the U.S.-designated Marxist terrorist group the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Brunson has denied all charges, and Washington has insisted that Ankara has not provided sufficient evidence to back their claims.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced that it would sanction Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu for their role in the continued imprisonment of Brunson, now under house arrest. The sanctions seize all their assets in the United States and “U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them,” according to the Treasury press release.
“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,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders reiterated on Wednesday.
Soylu and Gul both responded to the sanctions on their persons by noting that, since they have no property in the United States or interest in acquiring it, the sanctions will not have any practical effect on them.
In a post on Twitter, Soylu described his only property in the United States as “FETO,” the movement cleric Gulen leads known officially as “Hizmet.” The Turkish government refers to Hizmet as the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization, or FETO. Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, operates a global network of charter schools but denies any involvement with terrorism generally or the failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in July 2016. The American government has refused to extradite Gulen, citing a lack of evidence that he had anything to do with the failed coup.
“We have a property in America: FETO. We will not leave it there. We will get it,” Soylu warned on Twitter, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.
Gul, meanwhile, wrote on Twitter that he had “not even a single cent” in America, so the sanctions do not affect him. “I did not have any dream but living in my country,” he added.
Erdoğan himself has not reacted to the sanctions publicly, though he remarked on Wednesday that the United States was wrong to claim that Turkey persecuted religious minorities. “Threatening language of the U.S. evangelist, Zionist mentality is unacceptable,” he told reporters.
In addition to the targeted officials, other senior members of the Turkish government expressed outrage with the sanctions in defense of religious freedom. Parliament Speaker Binali Yildirim, who was prime minister before Turkey switched from a parliamentary to a presidential system, called the sanctions “unlawful and extremely arbitrary.
“I strongly condemn this decision that is an indicator of a disrespectful manner on judicially process in Turkey,” he asserted, demanding the United States undo the sanctions.
Bekir Bozdağ, the head of the Turkish parliament’s constitutional committee and former deputy prime minister, called the sanctions “an abdication of reason, a lack of foresight. “The U.S. cannot take what it wants from Turkey with a method that is against international law, unlawful and presuming,” he insisted.
Opposition parties reacted even more belligerently to the sanctions. A spokesperson for the nationalist Iyi (Good) Party, Aytun Çıray, demanded the government “seize the assets of the U.S. president and secretaries” in retaliation.
“The Justice and Development Party [AKP] government should seize Trump Towers,” Çıray asserted, referring to a Trump property in Istanbul. “The AKP should also halt the $11 billion passenger plane purchase from the U.S.”
The Republican People’s Party (CHP), the secularist party founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, also condemned the United States.
“The decision made by the U.S. tarnishes the honor of the Turkish people. We know that the person sheltering in Pennsylvania is the one behind the July 15 [2016 coup attempt],” CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said in a statement Thursday. Like the Iyi Party spokesman, Kılıçdaroğlu demanded the AKP act to sanction American government officials.
Some allies of the government went a step further in demanding retaliation. İbrahim Karagül, the editor-in-chief of the influential pro-Erdoğan conspiracy theorist newspaper Yeni Şafak, took the opportunity to demand that Turkey expel the United States from Incirlik Air Base. Accusing the United States of staging the 2016 failed coup, creating the PKK, and killing “hundreds of thousands of our people,” Karagül wrote Thursday, “The strategic alliance of Turkey and the U.S. has come to an end. There is no moral ground of this alliance relationship anymore. … all the initiatives to build an alliance with the U.S. again are now a crime.”