On Thursday, President Donald Trump added pressure on Turkey to release U.S. Christian pastor Andrew Brunson, threatening to impose “large sanctions” on the country.
Brunson, originally from North Carolina, was accused of supporting PKK Kurdish militants and assisting a Pennsylvania-based cleric Turkish officials say was the mastermind behind an attempted 2016 coup against Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, notes Reuters. The pastor, who claims he is innocent, is facing 35 years behind bars if found guilty.
Trump and other administration officials say there is no evidence to support the espionage charges.
Hours before President Trump sent the tweet via Air Force One, Vice President Pence threatened similar action if Turkey does not move to free Brunson immediately. “The United States of America will impose significant sanctions on Turkey,” warned Pence, speaking at a Washington conference on religious freedom, according to a report from The Associated Press.
Brunson, 50, was allowed to leave prison and serve house arrest on Wednesday for “health problems,” according to Turkish officials. The pastor, however, reportedly credited the Trump administration for his move. “Pence spoke by phone on Wednesday with Brunson, who expressed gratitude for the help from Trump and his top officials in securing his move from prison, the source said,” a Reuters report said.
The pressure from the administration to release Brunson has been intensifying over the last week or so. On July 18, Trump took to Twitter to condemn the imprisonment of the pastor, being sure to tag President Erdogan’s official account.
Brunson’s case has been adjourned until October 12.