The Trump administration decided this week to impose sanctions on Turkey, one of their NATO allies. This is the first time, ever, that the US has hit one of its NATO allies with sanctions.
The sanctions have imposed asset freezes on Turkey’s interior and justice ministers. The reason? Andrew Brunson, a US preacher from North Carolina, has been held in custody in Turkey for almost two years. At present, the sanctions are largely symbolic as the US has only targeted the personal finances of two Turkish citizens: Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Salesman Soylu. This is because, the US says, both ‘serve as leaders of Turkish government organisations responsible for implementing serious human rights abuses’ (BBC, 2.8.18). Despite this, the Turkish lira has already suffered as a direct result.
The action has been taken pursuant to the 2016 Global Magnitsky Act; a simple explanation of which can be found here: Human Rights Watch explains the Global Magnitsky Act.
The Preacher Man
Andrew Brunson, 50, has lived in Izmir in Turkey for more than 23 years doing missionary work. He was living there with his wife at the time of his arrest in October 2016, when he was detained by the Turkish authorities. Brunson was accused of being a spy with terrorist connections. He is one of 20 Americans who were charged after a failed coup against President Erdogan in 2016. The organisations Turkey have accused him having connections with are the movement that is led by the US based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen (who Erdogan blames for the failed coup attempt) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Erdogan has requested that Mr Gulen, who used to be a friend of the Turkish president, be extradited to Turkey and has offered to do a swap, but the US have refused to do so. The extradition treaty between the US and Turkey states that requests for extradition can be denied if they were (a) made to prosecute or punish someone for an offence of a political nature; or (b) on account of the person’s political opinions (GPFutures, 3.8.18).
Brunson was was recently moved from a Turkish prison to house arrest due to health concerns. Should he be found guilty of the charges against him, he could spend the next 35 years in prison. His trial is due to resume in October this year. Trump has pushed for his release and said that whilst the move to house arrest is a positive step, it isn’t enough, hence the sanctions.
Whilst on house arrest, Brunson must wear an electronic tag at all times and may not leave the country.
Why is this so important to the US?
Other than for the obvious humanitarian reasons, Trump has a large Christian following and Mr Brunson is an evangelical preacher. Vox News suggest that Washington are seeing this through an ‘ideological lens: a persecuted Christian trapped in an increasingly Islamic country’. One of Brunson’s lawyers, Jay Sekulow, is also one of Trump’s lawyers in the Robert Muller investigation: the one where Russia are accused of colluding with Trump during the 2016 US election.
The US and Turkey
The US have a military base in Turkey and the two countries are NATO allies. In fact, the US and Turkey have the largest and second largest militaries in NATO, in that order (Stratfor, 2.8.18). Should there be animosity within the NATO alliance, that would please Russia no end. Furthermore, the US is the largest arms exporter to Turkey. If Trump and Erdogan fall out, that could drive Turkey to an alternative supplier.
Last month Trump blocked the sale of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey because of Brunson’s situation (NYT, 25.7.18). He was also annoyed that Turkey purchased a Russian air defence system, the S-400. Of possible concern is that ‘Turkey’s use of both Russian and American defence systems could give Russia insight into how the F-35 works and reveal weakness in its stealth capabilities, which Russia could then exploit’ (Geopolitical Futures, 3.8.18).
Trump has successfully secured the release of some other US hostages during his tenure
Since Trump has been in office, he has shown a keen interest in bringing imprisoned US citizens back home. Vox News lists the following:
In May this year, Trump secured the release of 3 additional US hostages who had been held in North Korea. One had been taken whilst Obama was in office and the other two during Trump’s time:
FT, ‘US sanctions on Turkish ministers threaten strategic partnership’, 2.8.18:
Human Rights Watch on the origins of the Global Magnitsky Act:
BBC, ‘Andrew Brunson: US hits Turkey with sanctions over jailed pastor’, 2.8.18:
Vox News, ‘Why the White House just announced sanctions on Turkey’, 1.8.18:
New York Times, ‘Andrew Brunson, US pastor, moved to house arrest in Turkey’, 25.7.18:
Geopolitical Futures, ‘US-Turkish Relations: Bruised but not Broken’, 3.8.18:
Stratfor World View, ‘Turkey’s detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson prompts US sanctions. What’s at stake?’, 2.8.18:
New York Times, ‘American aid worker, release secured by Trump officials, leaves Egypt’, 21.4.17:
Politico, ‘Trump announces release of family held by Taliban-linked group’, 10.12.17:
Vox News, ‘North Korea has just released 3 American hostages’, 9.5.18:
Pastor Andrew Brunson:
US air base, Turkey:
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