In probable first US issues sanctions against a NATO ally. The sanctions affect personalities of the ministries of justice and interior. A declaration on religious freedom in Turkey signed by the patriarch Bartholomew I, the Armenian vicar Aram Atesyan, the chief rabbi Ishak Haleva. Erdogan uses the pastor as "bargaining chip" to obtain the extradition of Feithullah Guelen.
Istanbul (AsiaNews) - The United States has decided to impose sanctions on the Turkish justice and interior ministries for the continued detention of the American pastor Andrew Brunson.
Brunson, an Evangelical Christian from North Carolina, has been in prison for almost two years and is now under house arrest for health reasons. According to the Turkish justice system he is accused of having ties with the religious leader Fethullah Guelen, now in exile in Pennsylvania.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, believes Guelen is the mastermind behind the failed coup d'état two years ago, which led to the arrest of tens of thousands of people from all walks of life. The pastor has always denied any involvement with Guelen.
White House spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, said the US demands that Pastor Brunson may return to his country because "we do not see evidence that he did something wrong"
The sanctions foresee the blocking in the USA of all property or interests belonging to members of the two ministries responsible for the arrest, and a ban on all American citizens from doing business with them.
It is perhaps the first time that US sanctions have hit a NATO ally.
Threats of sanctions had come in recent days also from Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence, who accused Turkey of violating religious freedom.
Yesterday Erdogan criticized this "threatening" language and claimed that Turkey "does not have the slightest problem with religious minorities".
Almost in support of his statements, not long before, some religious leaders in Turkey issued a common declaration denying that there are pressures against their followers in the country.
According to the newspaper Hurriyet, which is close to the ruling party, the declaration was signed by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, by the Armenian Patriarchal Vicar, Archbishop Aram Atesyan, by the Chief Rabbi in Turkey Ishak Haleva.
Rejecting the US position, Erdogan defined it as coming from an "evangelist, Zionist" mentality.
Two days ago, a court refused Brunson's request for release from his lawyer. The next trial hearing will be on October 12th.
Many observers recognize that Pastor Brunson is being used as a "bargaining chip". Very often Erdogan himself said that he would exchange the Protestant pastor with "the priest", or Guelen, whom the US does not want to extradite.