The US has imposed sanctions on two top Turkish officials on Aug. 1, 2018, in a long-standing dispute over Turkey’s detention of an American pastor.
The US Treasury Department targeted Turkey’s Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and its Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu, whom they say played a major role in the arrest and detention of the evangelical Christian pastor Andrew Brunson.
“Pastor Brunson’s unjust detention and continued prosecution by Turkish officials is simply unacceptable,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “President Trump has made it abundantly clear that the United States expects Turkey to release him immediately.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reiterated the Justice Department’s words at a press briefing Aug. 1, 2018, and said that Trump had personally ordered the sanctions against the officials who played “leading roles” in Brunson’s arrest.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Brunson,50, is originally from North Carolina, and has led a small congregation in the coastal Turkish city of Izmir since 1993.
He was arrested in 2016 and has been accused of orchestrating a failed military coup attempt against Turkish President President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He has been imprisoned in Turkey for the last 21 months on espionage charges, though he was moved to house arrest last month because of health concerns.
Brunson has denied any wrongdoing. He faces up to 35 years in jail if convicted.
There are suspicions that Brunson’s detention could be politically motivated. Erdogan has openly suggested a high-level strategic swap with the US in exchange for Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish preacher living in Pennsylvania who has been accused of masterminding the 2016 coup attempt.
Since the failed coup, Erdogan has instituted sweeping executive powers, which allow him to select his own cabinet, regulate ministries and remove civil servants, all without parliamentary approval.
Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for 15 years, was sworn in as president in July 2018. Opponents say his newly enforced executive powers have lurched the country towards authoritarianism .
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.