The U.S. Department of Treasury, at the direction of President Donald Trump, is sanctioning two Turkish officials for their leading roles in the organizations responsible for the arrest and detention of U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson.
“Pastor Brunson’s unjust detention and continued prosecution by Turkish officials is simply unacceptable,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a press release Wednesday announcing the sanctions against Turkey’s Minister of Justice and Minister of Interior. “President Trump has made it abundantly clear that the United States expects Turkey to release him immediately.”
Brunson was arrested in Izmir, Turkey, on October 7, 2016, and – with an absence of evidence to support the charges – was accused months later of aiding armed terrorist organizations and obtaining confidential government information for political and military espionage.
Last week, a Turkish court decided to place Brunson under house arrest after the North Carolina native had been held for more than 600 days in a Turkish prison.
Although the move was welcomed, religious freedom advocates made it clear that it was not enough.
“The Turkish government has deprived this innocent man of his due process rights and liberty for too long, and it must completely release him,” said Kristina Arriaga, vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, in a July 25 press release. “If it fails to do so, the Trump Administration and the Congress should respond strongly and swiftly with targeted sanctions against the authorities responsible.”
President Trump confirmed his intention to press for sanctions, posting on Twitter last Thursday: “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!”
On Tuesday, a Turkish court rejected an appeal to release Brunson from house arrest and refused to lift a travel ban that prevents him from leaving the country, saying there is still a “strong criminal suspicion” against the pastor, according to Turkey’s Anadolu news agency.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan furthermore responded to the Trump administration’s recent comments, telling reporters Wednesday, “We will not give any credit to this type of threatening language.”
“It is not possible for us to accept that America gets up, especially with an evangelist, Zionist mentality, and uses this kind of threat-filled language,” Erdogan added, according to Agence France-Presse.
In light of recent developments, NRB reiterated its call for Brunson’s release and also encouraged its members to advise their congregations and audiences to “think twice” about traveling to Turkey out of caution or fear for their safety.
“Pastor Brunson is a Christian and an American suffering for his faith,” said NRB’s president & CEO, Dr. Jerry A. Johnson. “He should be given back his full freedom immediately. Until the Turkish government extends an olive branch, I for one will be wary of traveling there. Turkey has such beauty and rich religious heritage. I urge the government to make this right and end this alarming chapter.”
NRB also continues to urge Christians in America to pray for the imprisoned pastor and to sign a petition demanding his release.
The petition, spearheaded by the American Center for Law and Justice, has been signed so far by more than 590,000 individuals. It urges the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to intervene in the case.
By NRB Staff
Published: August 2, 2018