Freed From Turkish Jail, Former NASA Scientist Wants to Return to US

May 31, 2019 Updated: May 31, 2019

ANKARA–Turkish American Serkan Golge, a former NASA scientist newly released from jail in Turkey, said on May 30 he would like to go back to the United States and get his job back, but the terms of his probation won’t allow it.

Earlier this year, Golge was found guilty of being a member of an armed terrorist organization and sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison. His release on May 29 gave fresh hope for an easing of tensions between Turkey and the United States.

“We just had news that Turkey released a prisoner that we were trying to get, and they released him a little while ago into home custody and will be released from home custody to the United States pretty soon. And I just want to thank President Erdogan,” President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House on May 30.

The NATO allies are at odds over a range of issues including Syria policy, the United States’ refusal to extradite a Turkish cleric, Turkey’s plans to buy Russian missile systems, cases against U.S. consulate employees, and a threat of sanctions against Ankara.

Golge’s sentence was cut to five years by an appeals court and he was found guilty of aiding a terrorist organization rather than being a member of one.

“… following this decision I was eligible to be released on probational basis,” Golge told Reuters in an interview on May 30.

“This requires me to go to a police station and give a signature and unfortunately not to be able to leave the country and go back to the United States.”

Golge was visiting family in southern Turkey when he was arrested in a sweeping crackdown that followed a failed military coup in 2016. He has always denied the charges against him.

The government blames the coup attempt on supporters of exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in the United States. Gulen has denied involvement. The United States has repeatedly refused to repatriate Gulen.

Strained ties with Washington have contributed to investor fears that have seen Turkey’s lira currency plunge.

Washington had urged Turkey to release Golge and other detainees held since the crackdown. His release and a phone call between President Tayyip Erdogan and Trump helped lira firm on May 30.

“At least I can say there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Golge said.

“The only thing I want right now is to be able to go back to the U.S. and start working at NASA again as a scientist.”

In October 2018, Turkey released American evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson. Like Golge, Brunson was arrested in the aftermath of the attempted military coup. Turkey accused Brunson of taking part in orchestrating the coup and of links to terrorist organizations. Brunson has adamantly denied the charges.

The United States imposed sanctions on Turkey and threatened to ramp up economic pressure to force Brunson’s release. The measures sent Turkish currency, the lira, tumbling.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pressed Turkey to release other American detainees, including Golge, shortly after Brunson’s release.

Turkey has detained 160,000 people and dismissed nearly the same number of civil servants over suspected links to the coup attempt, according to the U.N. human rights office.

By Ece Toksabay. Epoch Times staff member Ivan Pentchoukov contributed to this report.