Threats will not be tolerated, Turkey says after Trump outburst over Brunson case
Turkey "will never tolerate threats from anybody," Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said after US President Donald Trump tweeted to warn Ankara about "large sanctions" over the arrest of Andrew Brunson, an American pastor being tried on terrorism and spying charges.
"Noone dictates Turkey. We will never tolerate threats from anybody. Rule of law is for everyone; no exception," Çavuşoğlu said in a tweet on July 26.
Presidential spokesperson İbrahim Kalın, on the other hand, said "threatening language is unacceptable," while calling on the U.S. "to adopt a constructive position."
“Turkey is a fully independent and sovereign country that determines its own destiny. The Brunson case will proceed in its own way, as it should be in a fully independent and sovereign country, and supreme Turkish justice will have the ultimate say,” Turkey's Justice Ministir Abdulhamit Gül said on Twitter.
He described Brunson in his tweet as “a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being.”
“He is suffering greatly. This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!” Trump added.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence also said on July 26 “the United States of America will impose significant sanctions on Turkey” if Brunson is not freed.
“To President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan 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 ... 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 said in two consecutive tweets.
Pence calls Brunson after move from prison to house arrest
Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, was indicted on charges of having links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), which Ankara blames for the failed coup in 2016.
Pence vowed to keep working for the “full release” of Brunson, announcing on Twitter that he had a phone conversation with the cleric after he was transferred from prison to house arrest.
“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,” Pence said in a tweet on July 26.
“@POTUS & I made clear last week and have worked tirelessly for months to free Pastor Andrew Brunson. 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. #FreeAndrewBrunson,” the VP said in another tweet on July 25.
Turkish Foreign Ministry: 'Unacceptable'
Turkish Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over the phone, according to Turkish diplomatic sources.
No further details about the phone call were released, but Turkish Foreign Ministry's spokesperson Hami Aksoy released a statement after Trump's and Pence's tweets on July 26.
"Turkey is a sovereign state with a deep-rooted democratic tradition and political order which upholds the supremacy of law . No one can give orders to Turkey and threaten our country. The rhetoric of threat against Turkey is unacceptable," Aksoy said.
"In order to improve its relations with the United States, our country has displayed necessary political will and did its part more than enough. It is impossible to accept the U.S. Administration’s threatening messages, which totally disregard our alliance and friendly relations between our countries," the statement continued.
"As regards the Brunson case, necessary information has been provided to our U.S. counterparts on various occasions and it has been clearly expressed that this issue is totally within the competence of the independent Turkish judiciary. We invite the U.S. Administration to leave aside this wrongful rhetoric and come back to the existing framework of constructive dialogue that we have been engaged in so far," it added.
Background of the Brunson case
The Second High Penal Court in the western province of İzmir had rejected Brunson’s plea for release on July 18, deciding to continue listening to the testimonies of witnesses in the next hearing scheduled for Oct. 12.
Following an objection from Brunson’s attorney İsmail Cem Halavurt, however, the same court ruled on July 25 to move Brunson from prison to house arrest citing the “health excuse” that was stressed in the plea.
The court also banned Brunson from leaving Turkey and imposed a judicial control decision.