President Donald Trump directed the U.S. Department of Treasury to sanction two Turkish officials on Wednesday for their part in the “unfair and unjust detention” of Pastor Andrew Brunson by the government of Turkey.
“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 announced during Wednesday’s press briefing.
“At the president’s direction the Department of Treasury is sanctioning Turkey’s minister of justice and minister of interior, both of whom played leading roles in the arrest and detention of pastor Brunson,” she explained. “As a result, any property or interest in property of both ministers within U.S. jurisdiction is blocked and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.”
The Treasury Department said in a release on the sanctions Wednesday:
The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) took action today targeting Turkey’s Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu, both of whom played leading roles in the organizations responsible for the arrest and detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson. 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.
“Pastor Brunson’s unjust detention and continued prosecution by Turkish officials is simply unacceptable,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “President Trump has made it abundantly clear that the United States expects Turkey to release him immediately.”
Bruson was arrested in Turkey in October 2016.
Vice President Mike Pence warned Turkey last week at the State Department’s first Ministerial on Religious Freedom that if it did not release Brunson, it would face U.S. sanctions.
President Trump warned Turkey further in a tweet that afternoon, “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!”
President Trump has discussed Pastor Bruson with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “on several occassions,” Sanders said in response to a reporter’s question during Wednesday’s White House briefing.