U.S. issues sanctions over jailed pastor Andrew Brunson

The Latest Turkish minister shrugs off sanctions for pastor

The Latest Turkish minister shrugs off sanctions for pastor

The United States on Wednesday slapped sanctions on Turkey's interior and justice ministers, aimed at pressuring its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally into releasing a detained American pastor who is being tried on espionage and terror-related charges.

The lira first touched 5 to the dollar on August 1, when the White House announced sanctions against Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül and Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu over Turkey's detention of Andrew Brunson.

Those organizations, it said, were responsible for "serious human rights abuses", including Brunson's arrest in 2016 and continued detention on terrorism charges.

Brunson has been charged with spying for the PKK - a designated terrorist group in the USA and Turkey - and US -based Fetullah Gulen and the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), the group behind the defeated July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey which martyred 251 people and injured thousands.

Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, faces up to 35 years in jail if found guilty of the charges, which he denies.

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Brunson was held for almost two years in prison on terror-related charges before he was moved last week to house arrest.

"We've seen no evidence that Pastor Brunson has done anything wrong, and we believe he's a victim of unfair and unjust attention by the government of Turkey", White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told journalists. Pompeo and Cavusoglu spoke by phone about Brunson's detention earlier Wednesday and are expected to meet on the margins of the meeting of the foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this week in Singapore, she said.

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

"If Turkey does not take immediate action to free this innocent man of faith and send him home to America, the United States will impose significant sanctions on Turkey until Pastor Andrew Brunson is free", the vice president said.

"President Trump concluded that these sanctions are the appropriate action", he said.

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He stands accused of carrying out activities on behalf of two organisations Ankara considers terror groups. The other is the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). His next hearing is set for October 12. Vice President Mike Pence urged Turkey to release Brunson or face consequences.

But Erdogan retorted that Turkey does not have the "slightest problem against religious minorities".

Brunson is one of tens of thousands of people - several of them Americans - detained on similar charges during the state of emergency declared by Erdogan in the wake of the 2016 failed coup bid.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu tweeted on Thursday that Fethullah Gulen, the cleric whom Turkey accuses of masterminding the 2016 failed coup attempt, was his only property in the United States.

Ankara meanwhile upset Washington by imprisoning two Turkish employees of American consulates in the country and holding another under house arrest on terror-related charges. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin called Brunson's detention "simply unacceptable".

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Anticipation of the USA sanctions had already helped to send the Turkish lira to an all-time low against the dollar on Wednesday.

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