The jailing of a senior Nasa researcher for seven and a half years on terrorism charges in Turkey has been condemned by a US government official.
Speaking after Serkan Gölge, a dual US-Turkish citizen, was sentenced for his alleged membership of a terrorist organisation, US state department official Heather Nauert said that the American government was “deeply concerned” by the outcome, which, she said, was obtained “without credible evidence”.
“We will continue to follow his case closely along with those of other US citizens whose ongoing prosecution under the state of emergency raises serious concerns about respect for judicial independence, protections enshrined in the Turkish constitution, including an individual’s right to a fair trial,” said Ms Nauert at a press briefing on 9 February.
Dr Gölge, who was working on Nasa’s proposed Mars landings, having moved to the US in 2003 to undertake a PhD, has been held for 18 months in İskenderun Prison after being detained in Hatay province while on a family visit, the Turkey Purge website reported.
He was held on allegations of being a CIA agent and a member of the Gülen group, which the Turkish government has accused of orchestrating a failed coup in July 2016.
Evidence presented in the case includes a statement by an anonymous informant and a $1 bill found in his brother’s room. Dollar bills are considered by the Turkish government to be a secret sign of connections to Pennsylvania-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, who is blamed for the coup attempt in Turkey, a charge that he strongly denies.
Dr Gölge, who has been held in solitary confinement for more than a year, has denied that the dollar bill belonged to him.
Regarding the account in a bank linked to the Gülen movement, he said that he has accounts in several banks. Dr Gölge has repeatedly denied membership of the “FETÖ” organisation, a derogatory term used by the Recep Tayyip Erdoğan regime to refer to the Gülen group.
Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police officers and other civil servants since July 2016 under a state of emergency declared after the coup attempt, according to Turkey Purge. Almost 6,000 academics have been dismissed.
Commenting on the case, Ms Nauert said that the safety of US citizens travelling to, or residing in, Turkey remains a concern.
“He’s a Nasa scientist...We’d like to call on the Turkish government to end the protracted state of emergency, to release those detained arbitrarily under emergency authorities and to safeguard the rule of law consistent with Turkey’s own domestic and international obligations and commitments,” she said.