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President Trump threatens to hit Turkey with sanctions if it doesn't release Christian pastor

Pastor Andrew Craig Brunson is escorted by Turkish police officers as he arrives at his house on Wednesday in Izmir. Brunson was moved after two years in prison, and placed under house arrest. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have demanded that Turkey release Brunson or face sanctions. (AFP/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump tweeted on Thursday that the United States would “impose large sanctions” against Turkey for its imprisonment of Christian pastor Andrew Brunson. Vice President Mike Pence made a similar announcement at a religious freedom event earlier in the day.

Wait...who is this pastor and what did he do?

Brunson, 50, is a Presbyterian pastor who preached in a Turkish church for 23 years. After a failed coup in 2016, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey began rounding up and imprisoning people he saw as being involved in that takeover attempt.

Brunson was arrested during this time on what his supporters say are fabricated charges. The Turkish government accused him of not only being involved in the coup, but of colluding with Kurdish militants. He would spend the next two years in prison.

While the Kurds have proven themselves to be invaluable allies to the United States in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the U.S. considers the PKK, a Kurdish independence movement inside Turkey, as a terrorist organization for its violent tactics.

The Turkish government, however, does not make a distinction between the PKK and other Kurdish groups, and views the entire ethnicity as a terrorist outfit.

On Wednesday, Brunson was released from prison and is now being held under house arrest. The Turkish government has not dropped the charges, and he still faces the possibility of spending up to 35 years in prison.

What did Trump and Pence say?

Trump tweeted that Turkey would face “large” sanctions for its treatment of Brunson, whom he described as “a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being.”

At a State Department-hosted religious freedom event, Pence declared:

To President Erdogan and the Turkish government, I have a message on behalf of the president of the United States of America: release Pastor Andrew Brunson now or be prepared to face the consequences
One last thing…
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