A Turkish court denied an appeal by American pastor Andrew Brunson to be released from house arrest. The judge ruled Tuesday the "strong criminal suspicions" against him had not changed, according to a Turkish news agency.
The US State Department intimated that the court's ruling only complicated efforts to get the pastor home.
"It's an ongoing conversation, it's a very sensitive matter," said State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert. "We would like Pastor Brunson to be brought home very soon."
At the White House Wednesday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee announced that the US plans to levy sanctions on two high-ranking Turkish officials who were involved in Brunson's arrest in 2016.
"At the president's direction, the Department of Treasury is sanctioning Turkey's minister of justice and minister of interior, both of whom played leading roles in the arrest and detention of Pastor Brunson," Sanders said. "Any property or interest in property of both ministers within U.S. jurisdiction is blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them."
Today's court ruling comes days after President Trump threatened to impose economic penalties against the government if it didn't release Brunson.
"The United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their longtime detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a great Christian, family man, and wonderful human being," Trump tweeted.
Trump also noted that Brunson is "suffering greatly," adding that "this innocent man of faith should be released immediately."
Turkey's president Recep Erdogan responded once again on Wednesday accusing the United States of an "evangelist, Zionist mentality" and vowed never to give in to such demands from the White House.
"We will not give any credit to this type of threatening language," Erdogan told reporters in Ankara. "It is not possible for us to accept that America gets up, especially with an evangelist, Zionist mentality, and uses this kind of threat-filled language."
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 earlier that year in July – accusations Brunson vehemently denies.
His supporters claim he is effectively a political prisoner being held as a bargaining chip by Turkey, which is actively seeking the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric it blames for the failed coup.
Turkey's interior minister Suleyman Soylu said his government will exert greater strength and resolve on Brunson's case from now on.
"Some think they can make Turkey kneel for a spy priest," said Soylu on Wednesday.
Brunson's next hearing is on October 12.