US State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert announced in a press statement on Thursday that Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals has ruled to reduce a sentence handed down in February to Dr. Serkan Gölge, a NASA scientist who was ordered to serve to seven years, six months in prison due to his alleged links to the Gülen movement.
“We welcome the Turkish Court of Appeals’ decision to reduce the sentence against Dr. Serkan Golge,” Nauert said and added: “That said, we continue to believe that the case against Dr. Golge lacks credible evidence and that he should be freed immediately to be reunited with his family. We will continue to follow D. Golge’s case closely, along with other unjust prosecutions against U.S. citizens and our own locally employed staff at Mission Turkey.”
According to reports by the Turkish media, Gölge’s sentence has been reduced to five years, and he remains in prison despite the US demand that he be released immediately.
A dual citizen of the US and Turkey, Gölge, 38, was detained on July 23, 2016 as part of an investigation into the Gülen movement, which the government accuses of masterminding a coup attempt on July 15, 2016. He was arrested after being kept in police custody for 14 days. In February a Turkish court in Hatay province handed down a prison sentence of seven years, six months on charges of membership in a “terrorist” organization.
The prosecution presented Gölge’s possession of a one dollar bill, which is claimed to be used by the Gülen movement to send coded messages, and possession of an account at Bank Asya, which was closed over its alleged links to the movement, as evidence against him during the trial.
A relative of Gölge also testified against him. Kübra Gölge, Serkan’s wife, has said relations had soured with this relative over an inheritance dispute. His conviction in February came after 18 months in pre-trial detention, during which Gölge was denied access to the US Consulate.
Serkan Gölge is one of a number of US citizens and employees jailed in Turkey. The State Department criticised Turkey for convicting the scientist without credible evidence in February, but since then his case has been largely overshadowed by that of Andrew Brunson, a US pastor jailed on similar charges.
A bilateral deal to secure Brunson’s release fell through in July, leading to a diplomatic crisis that has seen Turkish ministers sanctioned, the imposition of a tit-for-tat series of tariff hikes, and a serious decline in the Turkish lira.
Nauert stated in early August that the United States would not consider anything but the release of Brunson and all other imprisoned citizens as progress in healing the rift with Turkey.
Hundreds of thousands of people in Turkey have been the subject of legal proceedings in the last two years on charges of membership in the Gülen movement since a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, a Turkish Justice Ministry official told a symposium on July 19, 2018.
“Legal proceedings have been carried out against 445,000 members of this organization,” Turkey’s pro-government Islamist news agency İLKHA quoted Turkish Justice Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Ömer Faruk Aydıner as saying.
Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016, that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.
Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.
Turkey has suspended or dismissed about 170,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15, 2016. On December 13, 2017, the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.
Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018, that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016, and April 11, 2018, over alleged links to the Gülen movement.