USA imposes sanctions on Turkish officials over pastor's detention

Demiroren News Agency  AFP  File  STRAndrew Brunson spent almost two years in jail after his initial detention in October 2016

Two Turkish employees of USA consulates in Turkey are also now in jail on terror charges and another is under house arrest, while several Americans have been caught up in the crackdown that followed the failed coup.

Turkey will retaliate against a United States decision to impose sanctions on two senior ministers over the imprisonment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, the foreign ministry said on Wednesday.

"Without delay, there will be a response to this aggressive attitude that will not serve any objective", the ministry added.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is to chair a meeting of Turkey's top military council, has yet to comment on the sanctions.

The Turkish Anadolu Agency tweeted Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu's statement in which he said: "US attempt to impose sanctions on our two ministers will not go unanswered". White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the two men played leading roles in his 2016 arrest and later detention.

Soylu said: "We will not leave him there".

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"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", Sanders said.

Brunson risks up to 35 years in jail over charges that he acted on behalf of two groups viewed as terrorists by Ankara: the movement led by Gulen and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). "As a result, any property or interest in property of both ministers within USA jurisdiction is blocked, and US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them".

Brunson was accused of helping supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the US -based cleric who Turkish authorities say masterminded the 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan in which 250 people were killed.

Pence, who has close ties to the evangelical Christian community, has been following Brunson's case since he was arrested and pressing behind the scenes for action, aides said.

Brunson's situation received attention at the State Department's Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom last week.

Pompeo said Trump had decided that sanctions were "the appropriate action".

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State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters that the administration will continue its talks with Turkish officials even as the sanctions take effect.

Justice Minister Gul said Wednesday he does not own any property or have money outside Turkey.

Washington accused the two ministers of leading government organisations behind "serious human rights abuses".

The upheaval over the Brunson case comes as U.S. -Turkey relations had begun to improve slowly after years of tension, mostly having to do with conflicting objectives in Syria.

US President Donald Trump and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan met during a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation summit in July.

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