“There is no doubt the decision, which disrespectfully meddles in our judicial system, violates the essence of our relations and will seriously damage the constructive efforts made to resolve problems between the two countries,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said. “An equivalent response to this aggressive attitude will be given without delay,” it added, without elaborating.
The sanctions target Turkey’s Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu, who “played leading roles in the organizations responsible for the arrest and detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson,” the Treasury Department said. While limited in their direct effect, the penalties added to the winds already buffeting investors and sent markets reeling.
The move against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government also highlights the disconnect between Turkey and the US as they fail to negotiate their way out of an array of conflicts. Relations used to be based on strategic interests, but more recently, they’ve been dominated by discord over alliances in Syria’s civil war, Ankara’s strengthening ties with Moscow, and its uneasy position within Nato.
The sanctions - the first serious move since President Donald Trump hinted at the penalties last week - drew a public rebuke from Turkey and are likely to deepen the feud.
“We’ve seen no evidence that Pastor Brunson has done anything wrong and we believe he is a victim of unfair and unjust detention by the government of Turkey,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. The sanctions were imposed “at the president’s direction,” she said.
The lira slumped to a record low on Wednesday as the US imposed the penalties, then fell further yesterday, to trade 1.8% lower at 5.0869 per dollar at 12:51pm in Istanbul.
The yield on 10-year debt bonds jumped 72 basis points an all-time high of 19.31%, and the benchmark share index dropped 3.1%.
The penalties were issued under the Global Magnitsky Act of 2016, which allows the US government to target individuals, companies or other entities involved in corruption or human-rights abuses anywhere in the world.
All assets in the US belonging to the two ministers will be blocked, and US entities are prohibited from doing business with them.
Justice Minister Gul said he didn’t own anything in the US. Soylu, the interior minister, said the only thing he needs to get back from the US is Fethullah Gulen - a Pennsylvania-based cleric whom the Turkish government holds responsible for a 2016 military coup attempt against Erdogan.
While the US refuses to extradite Gulen due to judicial standards observed to decide whether the cleric is guilty, it fails to show the same respect to the judicial procedure Brunson is involved in, Turkey has said.
Brunson, who was first detained in 2016, was moved into house arrest last month. He faces trial on charges of involvement in the coup attempt against Erdogan’s government.
“The United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long-time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being,” Trump tweeted on July 26.
“He is suffering greatly. This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!”
Within the State Department, Brunson and other prisoners including Nasa scientist Serkan Golge and three Turkish employees of the US mission to Turkey are referred to as “hostages”. The US says they’re innocent and being held by Turkey for the sole purpose of extracting concessions on other points of tension in the US relationship.
The two countries have quarrelled over a panoply of foreign policy issues including the Turkish leader’s budding friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
From Turkey’s side, the US has done little to extradite Gulen.
As of last week, the Americans thought they had a deal that would bring Brunson home. In return for the release of the evangelical pastor, the US administration would recommend a lenient fine on Halkbank.
The US also offered to send Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a former executive at the bank who’s been jailed in the US, back to Turkey to serve out his term.