Turkey's Vice President Fuat Oktay denounces US' sanctions threat on Ankara over pastor Andrew Brunson, under detention on terror-related charges, saying Turkey's judiciary must be respected.

Andrew Craig Brunson, an evangelical pastor from Black Mountain, North Carolina, arrives at his house in Izmir, Turkey, Wednesday, July 25, 2018.
Andrew Craig Brunson, an evangelical pastor from Black Mountain, North Carolina, arrives at his house in Izmir, Turkey, Wednesday, July 25, 2018. (AP)

Turkey's Vice President Fuat Oktay on Thursday criticised US President Donald Trump's sanctions threat on Ankara over pastor Andrew Brunson, saying American partners must respect the decisions of the Turkish judiciary, which decides on behalf of the nation.

US President Donald Trump on Thursday threatened to slap “large sanctions” on Turkey unless Ankara freed an American pastor whose detention has further strained relations between the NATO allies.

The US has threatened to impose sanctions against Turkey unless it released American pastor Andrew Brunson. 

TRT World's Hasan Abdullah reports from Turkey's capital Ankara.

But in Turkey, Brunson stands accused of serious crimes, including involvement with terrorist groups. TRT World's Lionel Donovan is in Washington with more on what's behind the US move.

"Turkey is a state with the rule of law and the Turkish justice system treats everyone equally. We have no tolerance for cheap threats," Oktay said.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu slammed threats by Trump on his personal Twitter account saying no one could dictate to Turkey.

Cavusoglu also spoke to his US counterpart Mike Pompeo over the phone following Trump’s sanction threats, Anadolu Agency reported.

Turkish foreign ministry also issued a statement, saying, "Turkey is a sovereign state with a deep-rooted democratic tradition and political order which upholds the supremacy of law. No one can give orders to Turkey and threaten our country. The rhetoric of threat against Turkey is unacceptable."

Turkey’s Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin responded to President Trump’s threats, saying that the US must understand that it cannot reach the desired results by threatening Turkey.

"The US must reconsider its approach and adopt [a] constructive position before inflicting further damage to its own interests and its alliance with Turkey."

The Trump administration escalated its campaign the day after a Turkish court allowed Andrew Brunson to be transferred to house arrest after 21 months in detention.

“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,” Trump wrote in a tweet.

Brunson trial

Andrew Brunson, the pastor of the Dirilis (Resurrection) church in Izmir, was arrested in 2016 on charges of espionage, and for his links and organisational activities to the outlawed PKK terror organisation and FETO (Fetullah Terror Organisation). Turkey has named FETO as the group responsible for the coup attempt.

Turkish prosecutors are demanding up to 35 years of imprisonment: 15 years for committing crimes on behalf of terrorist organisations as a non-member, and up to 20 years for political or military espionage. 

Brunson is accused of carrying out these activities under the guise of conducting missionary work. 

On Wednesday, the Izmir 2nd High Criminal Court decided to turn Brunson's detention into house arrest due to his "health problems."

Turkish prosecutors are seeking a 35-year jail term for Brunson.

The court decided to allow Brunson to live at his address in Izmir, but barred him from "abandonment of residence" and also imposed a ban on him leaving the country.

Washington-Ankara deal?

A report by Washington Post on Thursday alleged that President Erdogan and his US counterpart Trump had reached a deal to trade a Turkish citizen imprisoned on terrorism charges in Israel for Brunson’s release.

But a senior Turkish official in Ankara, speaking on condition of anonymity, told TRT World, “We have seen media reports claiming that a deal was made between Turkey and the United States to secure the release of Ebru Ozkan, a Turkish citizen imprisoned in Israel on bogus terrorism charges, in return for the release of Andrew Brunson by a Turkish court. Those reports are completely baseless. The Turkish government has no intention of meddling in the affairs of the country’s independent judiciary.”

Israel arrested Ebru Ozkan while she was visiting as a tourist last month. On July 8, it indicted her in a security court for alleged ties to Hamas, charges her lawyer denied.

She was deported a week later.

New low in relations

Trump's threats over the detention of the pastor have plunged the relations between the two NATO allies to a new low.

Issues such as the extradition of Gulen and the YPG terror group in Syria had already caused divisions between the two sides since the Obama administration. 

US still hasn't handed over Gulen to Turkey, wanted for masterminding the 2016 defeated coup.

TRT World's Abubakr Al Shamahi reports.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies