Much of North Carolina’s congressional delegation signed onto a bill that would impose sanctions on Turkey over that country’s holding of pastor Andrew Brunson.
The bill calls for U.S. officials at international financial institutions to oppose loans to Turkey pending the release of Brunson, according to a summary from Rep. Mark Walker of Greensboro, the bill’s sponsor. Walker is a former Baptist preacher and co-chair of the Congressional Prayer Caucus.
Brunson, from Black Mountain, has spent much of his adult life in Turkey, where he started the Izmir Resurrection Church. He was arrested in October of 2016, months after a failed coup attempt on Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and charged with espionage and aiding terrorist groups.
Brunson was released from prison Wednesday, but placed under house arrest due to “health problems,” the Associated Press reported. Brunson’s next court hearing is scheduled for October.
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North Carolina Reps. Ted Budd, Richard Hudson, Mark Meadows and Robert Pittenger are co-sponsors on the bill, which was introduced Thursday before the House recessed for five weeks.
“Today, we draw the line in the sand. President Erdogan must release Brunson now and return him to the U.S. or face crippling sanctions to his already limping nation,” Walker said in a statement.
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence also called for sanctions Thursday.
“The United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being. He is suffering greatly. This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!” Trump tweeted Thursday.
Pence, speaking at a religious freedom event in D.C., said Turkey — a NATO ally of the United States — should release Brunson 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 a statement released Thursday, Turkey said Brunson’s detention “falls within the jurisdiction of Turkey’s independent judiciary,” according to the Associated Press. The statement says the United States should “reconsider its approach and adopt a constructive position before inflicting further damage to its own interests and its alliance with Turkey,” the AP reported.
Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, pushed for the U.S. to review the sale of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey over Brunson’s imprisonment. Congress approved the measure as part of the defense appropriations bill. Tillis has also taken to the Senate floor on numerous occasions to advocate for the release of Brunson, who Tillis visited in Turkey in March and April
“I heard that he was really concerned that maybe the American people would look at the indictment and believe it and forget him,” Tillis told McClatchy in April. “It was important for me to go over there, face-to-face visit him in prison and tell him that that’s not going to happen.”