Despite President Donald Trump's threat of massive economic sanctions unless Turkey freed American Pastor Andrew Brunson, the NATO ally is refusing to give in, vowing it would “never tolerate threats from anybody.”
“No one dictates Turkey,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted. “We will never tolerate threats from anybody. Rule of law is for everyone; no exception.”
Noone dictates Turkey. We will never tolerate threats from anybody. Rule of law is for everyone; no exception.
— Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (@MevlutCavusoglu) July 26, 2018
On Thursday, the Trump administration made it clear there would be severe consequences for Turkey's continued detainment of Brunson.
"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 from Air Force One Thursday, adding that Brunson "is suffering greatly."
"This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!" he said.
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. He is suffering greatly. This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2018
'He Should Have Been Freed Long Ago'
The president's threat follows an equally strong warning from Vice President Mike Pence, who spoke Thursday at the first ever global conference on religious freedom.
"He should have been freed long ago. He's now under house arrest – but we won't stop until he's fully released and reunited with his family, friends and church," he vowed.
Pence warned that if Turkey does not take immediate action to free Brunson, "the United States of America will impose severe economic sanctions on Turkey."
Spoke by phone w/ Pastor Andrew Brunson after his release from prison in Turkey. While out of prison, this man of faith is still under house arrest. Assured him @POTUS & our entire Admin will keep working to secure his full release & get him back to the USA #FreePastorBrunson
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) July 26, 2018
Brunson, a 50-year-old evangelical pastor from Black Mountain, North Carolina, was arrested in December 2016 and later charged with links to a failed plot to overthrow the Turkish government in July 2016 – accusations Brunson vehemently denies.
Supporters claim he is effectively a political prisoner being held as a bargaining chip by Turkey, who is actively seeking the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric it blames for the failed coup.
We welcome long overdue news that Pastor Brunson has been moved from prison to house arrest in #Turkey, but it is not enough. We have seen no credible evidence against Mr. Brunson, and call on Turkish authorities to resolve his case immediately in a transparent and fair manner. pic.twitter.com/So2A4hfinZ
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) July 25, 2018
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed Brunson’s move out of prison in a tweet Wednesday, calling it "long overdue news," but demanded that the Turkish government "resolve his case immediately in a transparent and fair manner."
Brunson faces up to 35 years in prison for "committing crimes on behalf of terror groups."
A total disgrace that Turkey will not release a respected U.S. Pastor, Andrew Brunson, from prison. He has been held hostage far too long. @RT_Erdogan should do something to free this wonderful Christian husband & father. He has done nothing wrong, and his family needs him!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 19, 2018
President Trump has repeatedly demanded Brunson's release and said on Twitter last week that the pastor's detention was "a total disgrace."
Pence, Nikki Haley Stress Importance of Religious Freedom
Meanwhile, Pence told the delegation from more than 80 countries at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, the list of religious freedom violators is long, with China, Iraq and North Korea at the top the list.
"North Korea's persecution of Christians has no rival on the Earth,” Pence said. “It is unforgiving, systematic, unyielding and often fatal. The mere possession of a Christian Bible is a capital offense."
And at the Holocaust Museum, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley spoke about the US's commitment to protecting religious liberty.
“Yesterday, I visited Humayan’s Tomb, which is absolutely stunning and a real treasure for the country. This morning, I had a fascinating and inspiring interfaith tour of Old Delhi,” she said.
“It reminded me that, of all the things America and India share, freedom of religion is one of the most important,” Haley continued. “Nations as diverse as ours can only be held together by true tolerance and respect.”
Secretary Pompeo said the Ministerial Summit to Advance Religious Freedom will not be a one time event, but an annual event under the Trump Adminstration.