Trump threatens to sanction Turkey if they don't release U.S. pastor

In a tweet, President Trump echoed that threat, calling Brunson "a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being".

"He is suffering greatly", Trump said of the 50-year-old pastor.

"Brunson is an innocent man, there is no credible evidence against him", Pence said.

The Secretary of State had been involved in delicate negotiations in an attempt to free the 50-year-old pastor, who had been jailed for a year and a half on what the USA maintains are false charges connected to a failed coup attempt against Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"To President (Tayyip) 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 told a religious freedom conference hosted by the U.S. State Department.

"In Turkey, Pastor Andrew Brunson remains wrongfully imprisoned on false charges", Brownback told foreign delegates and civil society representatives.

Mr Brunson has denied charges of espionage, but faces up to 35 years in jail if found guilty.

Last week, a Turkish court rejected appeals from US officials to release Brunson.

The pastor, who worked in Turkey for over 22 years, was detained in 2016 after being blamed for helping rebels in a coup.

"I find it hard to see how this relationship moves forward. if the Turkish government continues to detain Pastor Brunson as well as locally employed staff, journalists, and civil servants", Democratic Senator Robert Menendez said.

The remarks follow similar efforts by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the State Department to highlight anti-government dissent in Iran.

Turkey's foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, quickly responded, also via Twitter: "No one dictates Turkey".

Turkey wants the U.S. to agree to his extradition.

Turkish-US relations are already strained over Washington's refusal to extradite Gulen as well as American backing for a Kurdish militia in Syria which Turkey says is linked to the PKK.

The United States and Turkey are both members of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Any release and return to the United States has previously been linked to the extradition of Turkish military coup suspect Fethullah Gulen, who is living in exile in Pennsylvania.

Pence welcomed Turkey's decision to place Brunson under house arrest, but said it was "not good enough".

The news is being praised by leading evangelical Christians, who form a key part of Trump's base and have long advocated for increased protections on religious freedom in the US and overseas. Gülen denies any involvement in the coup. Erdemir continued, "Such a dirty deal would not only be a de facto admission of the moral equivalency between an innocent pastor and a sanctions buster, but also lend legitimacy to the ludicrous accusations in the Brunson indictment".

His lawyer, Ismail Cem Halavurt, said on July 18 the prosecution has added the testimonies of two new anonymous witnesses to the case and that the court will hold its next hearing on October 12 to hear them and view new evidence.

This declaration came a day after a Turkish court allowed Brunson to leave prison for house arrest to help him recover his health.

  • Eleanor Harrison