The United States imposed sanctions on two top Turkish officials on Wednesday in a new attempt to get Ankara to turn over American pastor Andrew Brunson accused of backing a coup attempt in July 2016.
According to Reuters, the U.S. Treasury Department acted against Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu over the imprisonment of Brunson. The United States has blamed both for being involved in Brunson’s arrest and detention.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry called Washington’s action a “hostile stance” and said it would retaliate. Relations between the United States and Turkey, both NATO allies, have plummeted over Brunson, who was held in a Turkish prison for 21 months prison until he was transferred to house arrest last week.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters: “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.”
U.S. President Donald Trump has raised the case directly with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Sanders said. Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have been trying to deal with Turkey to release Brunson, but to no avail.
On Tuesday, a Turkish court rejected Brunson’s appeal to be released from house arrest during his trial on terrorism charges. He was accusing of helping supporters of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric who Turkish authorities say masterminded the 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan in which 250 people were killed.
Turkey has been trying for two years to have Gulen extradited from the United States. Brunson was also charged with supporting outlawed PKK Kurdish militants. Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years, faces up to 35 years in prison if found guilty of the charges, which he denies.
Anticipation of the U.S. sanctions have helped to send the Turkish lira to an all-time low against the dollar on Wednesday.