Turkey's president says he won't release American Pastor Andrew Brunson, even in the face of economic sanctions.
President Donald Trump has threatened "large sanctions" against the NATO ally if it doesn't set Brunson free.
But Turkish President Recep Erdogan is firing back. "They cannot make Turkey back down with sanctions," he told Turkish media. "We will not step back."
"The US should not forget that unless it changes its attitude, it will lose a strong and sincere partner like Turkey," he continued.
Brunson is facing a possible 35-year prison sentence on charges that he helped a group that tried to overthrow the government in 2016. His attorneys and the Trump administration say he's innocent and a political hostage of Erdogan.
Last week, Turkish authorities transferred Brunson from jail to house arrest, but his trial continues.
"It is a welcome first step, but it is not good enough," US Vice President Mike Pence said. He has warned Erdogan several times in recent days, saying Turkey will face consequences if Erdogan refuses to release the American pastor.
"If Turkey does not take immediate action to free this innocent man of faith and send him home to America, the United States will impose significant sanctions on Turkey until Pastor Andrew Brunson is free," Pence warned.
If Turkey does not take immediate action to free Pastor Andrew Brunson and send him home to America, the United States will impose significant sanctions on Turkey until this innocent man of faith is free. pic.twitter.com/GM9WohpMRm
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) July 26, 2018
Pence spoke in depth about Brunson at the US government's religious freedom summit last week.
"Pastor Brunson is an American citizen who's lived in Turkey for more than two decades, raising his family there, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ faithfully in his ministry," Pence explained.
"Pastor Brunson was imprisoned without being charged for more than a year. And when the Turkish government finally indicted him, they accused him of allegedly dividing and separating Turkey by simply spreading his Christian faith."
Pence said Brunson is innocent. "There is no credible evidence against him," he said. "Pastor Andrew Brunson deserves to be free."
"To President Erdogan and the Turkish government, I have a message on behalf of the president of the United States of America. Release Pastor Andrew Brunson now or be prepared to face the consequences," Pence said.
Pence also called on Christians in America to take action too, to "Pray for Pastor Brunson."
Meanwhile, US pastors are warning people not to travel to Turkey. In a statement to NPR, Rev. Johnnie Moore said, "If Turkey isn't safe for Brunson, it isn't safe for us."
"The threat of sanctioning Turkey sends a clear message to that nation — and every nation in the world — that when it comes to religious freedom, the United States means business," Moore said.
"The threat of sanctioning Turkey sends a clear message to that nation — and every nation in the world — that when it comes to religious freedom, the United States means business," Moore told NPR.
— Johnnie Moore ن (@JohnnieM) July 29, 2018