US sanctions Turkish government ministers over detained Pastor Andrew Craig Brunson

Washington is slapping sanctions on Turkey's justice and interior ministers over what it says are trumped-up charges against a US citizen. Pastor Andrew Craig Brunson is facing 35 years in prison in Turkey.

The White House announced on Wednesday that it was imposing sanctions on two top members of the Turkish government over a US pastor who is being held in Turkey for spying and terror-related charges.

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said that Turkey's Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul (above right) and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu (above left) are being targeted for their role in the detention of 50-year-old Andrew Craig Brunson.

"We believe he's a victim of unfair and unjust attention by the government of Turkey," Sanders said of Brunson.

Andrew Craig Brunson, originally from North Carolina, was released from jail but is confined to house arrest in Turkey

Brunson faces 35 years

The US pastor was first arrested in October 2016, when Turkey was in the immediate throes of a crackdown on suspected instigators of a failed coup attempt.

He is accused of supporting exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen as well as the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and many allies including the US and the EU. If convicted, he faces 35 years in prison.

Last week, Brunson was allowed to leave prison and remain under house arrest, but his request to leave Turkey was denied.

The US has maintained that there is no credible evidence to support the charges brought against Brunson.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that he will not be swayed by sanctions.

NATO partners adrift: USA and Turkey

Jovial gestures belie multiple disputes

May 16, 2017: Trump welcomes Erdogan to Washington, saying both presidents have a "great relationship" and would make it "even better." Erdogan congratulates Trump on his "legendary" 2016 election win but complains bitterly about US arming of the Kurdish YPG militia, claiming that its inclusion in the US-led campaign against IS in in war-torn Syria provides a cover for Kurdish separatism.

NATO partners adrift: USA and Turkey

Melee becomes further irritant

May 17: As Erdogan ends his visit, Voice of America video footage emerges showing his guards assaulting Kurdish protesters outside the Turkish ambassador's residence in Washington. A month later, US authorities issue arrest warrants for 12 members of Erdogan's security detail, who had long returned to Turkey. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the assaults breached "legitimate" free speech.

NATO partners adrift: USA and Turkey

First anniversary of coup attempt

July 15, 2017: Turkey marks the first anniversary of the failed coup attempt. In a post-coup bid crackdown 50,000 people were arrested, accused of links to the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, an Erdogan ally-turned-rival. Tens of thousands more face job suspensions. The refusal of the US to extradite Gulen has been a major sore spot in relations.

NATO partners adrift: USA and Turkey

Turkey 'uneasy' about US arming of Kurdish militia

August 23: US Defense Secretary James Mattis visits Ankara as the Pentagon stresses US commitment to bilateral relations and "honest dialogue." Mattis had just visited Iraq to assess the anti-IS campaign. Erdogan tells Turkish media that Turkey will thwart any attempt by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) to establish a "terror corridor" in northern Syria through to the Mediterranean.

NATO partners adrift: USA and Turkey

Turkey arrests US consulate employee

October 5: Turkish authorities arrest Metin Topuz, a Turkish national employed at the US consulate in Istanbul. He is formally charged with espionage and collaboration in the 2016 coup attempt. The US embassy in Ankara subsequently says it is "deeply disturbed" by the arrest. It's reportedly the second since March, when a Turkish US consulate employee was arrested in Adana.

NATO partners adrift: USA and Turkey

US and Turkey suspend their respective visa services

October 8-9: The United States suspends its issuance of non-immigrant visa applications to Turkish nationals, saying it has to "reassess" Turkish readiness to respect security at US diplomatic missions. Turkey suspends its visa services for US nationals and summons another staffer at the US consulate in Istanbul.

NATO partners adrift: USA and Turkey

Attempts to make amends

November 6: The US Embassy in Ankara announces that it is reinstating its visa program for Turkish tourists on a "limited" basis after receiving assurances from the government that no employees will be detained "for carrying out official duties." Shortly thereafter, Turkey confirms that it is also resuming visa services for US citizens one day before Prime Minister Yildirim visits Washington.

NATO partners adrift: USA and Turkey

At odds over Russian missiles

December through August, 2018: In December, Turkey announced it would buy the Russian S-400 missile system, which is incompatable with NATO systems. The US Congress has included a provision in a defense bill that would cut Turkey out of the F-35 fighter jet program if it moves forward with the S-400 deal.

NATO partners adrift: USA and Turkey

Release the pastor ... or else

August 1, 2018: The US sanctions Turkey's interior and justice ministers over the continued detention of pastor Andrew Brunson. Brunson had been moved from prison to house arrest in late July, but that fell short of US demands for his immediate release and end to terror and espionage charges. Brunson was arrested almost two years ago.

However, he has indicated that he would swap Brunson for Gulen, who was once an ally of the Turkish president, but now lives in a secluded part of Pennsylvania.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he would meet with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu to discuss Brunson and the sanctions next week.

Related Subjects

es/jm (AP, AFP)

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.