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US announces sanctions on Turkish officials after refusal to release imprisoned Christian pastor

US pastor Andrew Craig Brunson (right), escorted by Turkish plainclothes police officers arrives at his house on July 25 in Izmir. After Turkey refused to agree to a request from the United States that Brunson be released, the U.S. slapped sanctions on two Turkish officials. (AFP/Getty Images)

The United States will slap sanctions on two high-ranking Turkish officials after that nation refused to release a Christian pastor who has been imprisoned since 2016, CNN reported.

What are the details?

Pastor Andrew Brunson, a North Carolina native who was pastor of a Presbyterian church in Turkey, was arrested in 2016. He was charged with being involved in a failed coup that year and with colluding with Kurdish militants.

While Kurdish forces have been close allies to U.S. forces fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the U.S. considers the Turkish Kurdish group known as the PKK to be a terrorist organization. Turkey, however, does not see any difference between separate Kurdish groups, and views all ethnic Kurds as being allied with the PKK.

Brunson's supporters maintain that the charges against him were fabricated.

On July 25, Brunson was moved from prison and placed under house arrest.

On July 26, Trump announced in a tweet that if the Turkish government did not release Brunson, the U.S. would impose “large” sanctions on Turkey.

At a religious freedom event, Vice President Pence said something similar:

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

What happened next?

Turkey, however, refused to comply. The Trump administration followed through on its threat and hit Turkish Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu with sanctions for being leaders “of an entity that has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, serious human rights abuse.”

The two ministers will have any assets and properties under U.S. jurisdiction blocked and U.S. persons will be prohibited from engaging in financial transactions with the ministers, CNN reported.

In the news release announcing the sanctions, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin called Brunson's detention “unjust” and “simply unacceptable."

He added, “President Trump has made it abundantly clear that the United States expects Turkey to release him immediately.”

In a news conference on Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders stressed that the administration found Brunson's imprisonment to be “unfair and unjust” and that it saw “no evidence that Pastor Brunson has done anything wrong.”

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