Trump: US to impose sanctions on Turkey over detained pastor


WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump says the United States will impose sanctions on NATO ally Turkey over a detained American pastor held on terror and espionage charges.

Shortly after the possibility of sanctions was first announced today by Vice President Mike Pence, Trump wrote on Twitter the U.S. "will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson."

"He is suffering greatly. This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!" the president added from aboard Air Force One as he flew to Iowa for an event.

Pence's initial announcement of possible sanctions came at the close of a three-day conference on religious freedom.

Brunson, 50, an evangelical Christian pastor originally from North Carolina, was let out of jail Wednesday, after 1 1/2 years, to serve house arrest because of "health problems," according to Turkey's official Anadolu news agency.

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

Trump has repeatedly demanded Brunson's release and said on Twitter last week the pastor's detention was "a total disgrace." One of Brunson's attorneys is Jay Sekulow, who also represents Trump in the Russia investigation.

If convicted, the pastor faces up to 15 years in prison for "committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member," references to outlawed Kurdish militants and the network of a U.S-based Muslim cleric blamed for a failed coup attempt. He could receive another 20 years if he is found guilty of espionage.

Brunson strongly denies the charges.

Pence's announcement was delivered at a conference on religious freedom in Washington. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also spoke at the conference.

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