Ankara has strongly protested US sanctions against the Turkish justice and interior ministers over the detention of an American pastor being tried on espionage and terror-related charges in Turkey. The Turkish foreign ministry on Wednesday called on the US to reverse its decision, according to a statement issued by the foreign ministry.
The White House announced earlier in the day that the US imposed sanctions on the ministers. President Donald Trump warned last week that he might impose sanctions against Turkey, a key NATO ally, for its treatment of Pastor Andrew Craig Brunson.
Brunson, who was recently placed under house arrest, was charged with committing crimes, including spying for the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist group by both the US and Turkey as well as the EU. He is also charged with helping the Fetullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO), the group behind a coup attempt in July 2016.
"There is no doubt that the decision, which disrespectfully intervenes with our judicial system, stands in contrast to the essence of our relations and will seriously damage the constructive efforts made in order to resolve problems between the two countries," the foreign ministry said.
"An equivalent response to this aggressive attitude will be given without delay."
"US attempts to impose sanctions on our two ministers will not go unanswered," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted. "We can't solve our problems unless the US administration realises that it can't obtain its illegal demands by this method."
Turkey's Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul also responded to the sanctions against him, saying he does not own any property or have money outside Turkey.
Turkey’s Justice and Development Party, Republican People’s Party, Nationalist Movement Party and the Iyi (Good) Party have all condemned the sanctions. “We say no to US threats with common solidarity,” the parties issued a statement.
TRT World's John Brain in Washington DC has more on the strategy behind the sanctions.
From words to sanctions
If found guilty, Brunson faces up to 15 years in prison for committing crimes on behalf of terrorist groups without being a member, and up to 20 years for political or military espionage.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on Wednesday the sanctions target Turkey's justice and interior ministers, whose agencies she said were responsible for the pastor's arrest and detention.
"We've seen no evidence that Pastor Brunson has done anything wrong, and we believe he is a victim of unfair and unjust attention by the government of Turkey," Sanders said.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Turkish government refused to release Brunson "after numerous conversations" between President Trump and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan along with his conversations with Cavusoglu.
"President Trump concluded that these sanctions are the appropriate action," Pompeo said.
Under the sanctions imposed by the US Treasury Department, any property, or interest in property, belonging to Gul or Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu within US jurisdiction would be blocked. Americans would generally be prohibited from doing business with them.
TRT World was joined by Andrew Hopkins in Ankara for the latest.
Why is the pastor on trial?
The American pastor was arrested in October 2016. The Izmir 5th Penal Court of Peace on December 9, 2016 ordered Brunson’s continued detention pending trial.
On July 25, Izmir's high criminal court ordered Brunson to be kept house arrest in light of his health problems.
Izmir Public Prosecutor Berkant Karakaya’s indictment stated that Brunson acted in accordance with the strategies of terror groups but under the pretext of being a man of religion. Brunson knew the aims of such groups and willingly cooperated with them, according to the indictment.
The indictment goes on to state Brunson was in touch with high-ranking FETO members, including fugitives Bekir Baz and his assistant Murat Safa, to determine his strategies. Brunson is also accused of being in contact with Amnesty International Turkey head Taner Kilic, who is awaiting trial in prison for “being a member of an armed terrorist group,” for the same reason.
In the technical investigation, Brunson was placed in close proximity to Baz using GSM signals.
The indictment also discloses a message Brunson sent to a US soldier after the unsuccessful July 2016 coup.
The text message said: “We were expecting an earthquake to shake the Turkish nation. The conditions returning to Jesus were met now. Many Turks relied on the military like in the past, but this time it was too late. Another blow after the coup attempt. I think the situation is going to get worse. We’ll win at the end.”