The U.S. Treasury Department has sanctioned two senior officials in the Turkish government over the continued detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson, a rare rebuke by the U.S. to a NATO ally.
The move is likely to further strain an already tense relationship between the United States and Turkey, but it is sure to please many of President Donald Trump’s evangelical Christian supporters who have been pushing for Brunson’s release.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during Wednesday’s press briefing that Trump is unhappy with Turkey over the detention, which has lasted almost two years.
“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,” Sanders said. Any property held by the officials in the U.S. is blocked, and Americans are prohibited from engaging in transactions with them, she said.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Brunson’s “unjust detention and continued prosecution by Turkish officials is simply unacceptable.” In a release announcing the sanctions, Mnuchin said, “President Trump has made it abundantly clear that the United States expects Turkey to release him immediately.”
Brunson was arrested by Turkey’s government in October 2016 on charges of aiding a terrorist organization and for espionage, and the U.S. government has pressed for his release.