The U.S. Treasury on Wednesday issued sanctions against Turkish officials including Minister of Justice Abdülhamit Gül and Minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu in retaliation over Turkey's detainment of terror-linked U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson.
The statement issued by the Treasury said Gül and Soylu were targeted due to their "leading roles in the organizations responsible for the arrest and detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson."
The statement claimed these officials were responsible for "human rights abuses" carried out by Turkey -- a key NATO ally of the U.S.
"As a result of these actions, any property, or interest in property, of both Turkey's Minister of Justice Abdülhamit Gül and Turkey's Minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu within U.S. jurisdiction is blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them," the statement said.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was quoted in the statement as saying, "Pastor Brunson's unjust detention and continued prosecution by Turkish officials is simply unacceptable."
"President (Donald) Trump has made it abundantly clear that the United States expects Turkey to release him immediately," Mnuchin said.
U.S. President Trump has taken up the tactic of strong-worded threats, and apparently now sanctions, to attempt to coerce Turkey into making a decision. Ankara asserts that Brunson's case is a matter of the Turkish judiciary apart from political will.
The sanctions are issued under "Executive Order (E.O.) 13818, 'Blocking the Property of Persons Involved in Serious Human Rights Abuse or Corruption,' which builds upon Treasury's Global Magnitsky Act authorities," the statement added.
The Global Magnitsky Act of 2016 enables the U.S. government to target entities that it claims participate in human rights violations or corruption anywhere in the world. The act allows for travel bans, seizure of U.S. assets and prohibitions on conducting business with U.S. entities.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said "Trump concluded that these sanctions are the appropriate action" after conversations with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders commented on the sanctions, saying they reflected the U.S. belief that Brunson "is a victim of unfair and unjust attention by the government of Turkey."
Brunson, who was previously jailed for his links to Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) and the PKK, was released on July 25 following an appeal by his lawyer, who objected his extended detention in an earlier hearing, citing health problems the 50-year-old defendant suffers from.
The Second High Criminal Court in Izmir ordered his house arrest and a ban on travel abroad for the pastor.
Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, was indicted on charges of helping the FETÖ, which is responsible for the failed 2016 coup, as well as supporting the PKK terrorist organization.
The case of Brunson, who was a pastor at the Diriliş (Resurrection) Protestant Church in Izmir, has been a thorny issue between Turkey and the U.S. Washington has repeatedly called for the release of Brunson, claiming he was "unjustly detained."
The Turkish government has repeatedly told Washington that Brunson's case is being handled by the courts and the government cannot intervene.
Brunson was arrested after a secret witness in a criminal probe into FETÖ testified against him while authorities were preparing to deport Brunson and his wife Norine Lyn for "involvement in actions threatening national security."
He is scheduled to appear before a court in October for his third hearing after the court rejected an appeal for his release in a July 18 hearing.