On Saturday, President Recep Tayipp Erdogan of Turkey announced sanctions against two American officials in retaliation to sanctions imposed by U.S. against two Turkish government ministers, the AP reports.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control originally froze the assets of Turkey’s Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu because both officials were determined to have played “leading roles” on the arrest and detention of Andrew Brunson, an evangelical pastor working in the city of Izmir, Turkey. Brunson, 50, leads the Resurrection Church in Izmir, a small congregation of less than 30 people. Erdogan’s authorities arrested him in October 2016, in the aftermath of the 2016 failed coup attempt.
The Turkish government has charged Brunson with espionage, as well as providing assistance to organizations such as the Gulen movement and Kurdistan Worker’s Party, both of which Turkey designates as terrorist groups. United States government officials have denounced the charges.
On July 25, after nearly two years in detention, Brunson was moved to house arrest because of health concerns, the New York Times reported.
“Pastor Brunson’s unjust detention and continued prosecution by Turkish officials is simply unacceptable,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “President Trump has made it abundantly clear that the United States expects Turkey to release him immediately.”
Similarly, Vice President Mike Pence invoked Brunson’s case during his remarks at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C. on July 26. “Pastor Andrew Brunson is an innocent man,” Vice President Pence stated. “There is no credible evidence against him. Our entire administration has worked tirelessly to secure Pastor Brunson’s release. Yesterday, Turkey released Pastor Brunson from prison, only to place him under house arrest. This is a welcome first step, but it is not good enough.”
Amid the friction, the Turkish lira has hit record lows. The Wall Street Journal reported that the lira was down 3.8% against the U.S. dollar as of August 6, and that the lira has fallen almost 30% this year.
Meanwhile, Erdogan’s proposed sanctions are vague and primarily symbolic. In a statement delivered in Ankara, he stopped short of targeting any particular U.S. officials by name. He instead ordered Turkish authorities to “freeze the assets of America’s justice and interior ministers in Turkey, if there are any.” As AP points out, the United States government has no such titles, so it is unclear who Erdogan is aiming to target.