Serkan Golge, a dual US–Turkish citizen, was convicted for membership in the organization that the government blames for a failed coup attempt.
A NASA physicist and dual US–Turkish citizen was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison today by a court in Turkey for being a member of a terrorist organization. Serkan Golge was arrested in July 2016 in the aftermath of the failed attempt to overthrow the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He is one of several US citizens who have been swept up, often with little or no evidence against them, in a crackdown that has left tens of thousands of academics, judges, civil servants, and other professionals unemployed, blacklisted, and imprisoned (see Physics Today, December 2016, page 30).
“The United States is deeply concerned by the February 8 conviction, without credible evidence, of US citizen Serkan Golge,” Heather Nauert, US Department of State spokesperson, said in a press briefing. She expressed concern about the safety of American citizens traveling to and residing in Turkey and said the US is calling on the Turkish government to “end the protracted state of emergency” that was first declared right after the coup attempt. Turkey’s parliament approved a three-month extension of emergency rule for the sixth time last month, providing Erdoğan continued power to arrest and detain political opponents.
At the time of his arrest, Golge was working as a senior research scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, studying the effects of radiation on astronauts traveling to the International Space Station and on future interplanetary missions. Turkish authorities detained him as he and his wife and two children were preparing to fly back home to Houston after visiting relatives. Golge has been in custody ever since, much of the time in solitary confinement.
According to news reports, the prosecution’s case has relied on a baseless accusation from a bitter family memberand a box containing a $1 bill. Turkish officials claim that the US dollar note is the calling card of operatives of Fethullah Gülen, the cleric now residing in Pennsylvania whom Erdoğan blames for the coup attempt. Golge also attended the Gülen-sponsored Fatih University in Istanbul, where in 2002 he attained a bachelor’s degree in physics.
Physics Today is inquiring about Golge’s options for appeal.
Golge’s dual citizenship has complicated efforts by US diplomats to advocate for his release or even to see him—Turkey views him as strictly a Turkish citizen. US consular representatives weren’t allowed to meet with Golge and other detained US citizens in Turkey until October 2017.
Golge is not the only Turkish physical scientist whose life was turned upside down after July 2016. Other victims include Ali Basaran, a Turkish-born experimental physicist who returned to the country in 2015 after earning his PhD in the US. After the coup he lost his job and had his passport and computers containing all his data confiscated. More recently, theoretical physicist Ali Kaya caught people’s attention by posting three papers to the arXiv that he wrote during a 440-day stay in jail on terrorism-related charges.