Turkey releases US NASA scientist after years in prison

Serkan Golge was detained in 2016 on a visit to Turkey as Ankara cracked down on alleged supporters of a failed coup.

    Authorities have carried out regular operations against the alleged supporters of the 2016 coup attempt [Reuters]
    Authorities have carried out regular operations against the alleged supporters of the 2016 coup attempt [Reuters]

    Turkey has released Serkan Golge, a NASA scientist with dual US-Turkish citizenship whose nearly three-year detention has soured relations between the NATO allies, the State Department and his wife said.

    "We welcome the news that Serkan Golge has been released from prison today," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told reporters on Wednesday.

    "We will continue to follow Mr Golge's case closely along with those involving our own locally employed staff" in Turkey, she said.

    Ortagus called on Turkey to ensure that "he can return home as soon as possible."

    Golge was detained in July 2016 on a visit to his country of birth as Ankara cracked down on alleged supporters of self-exiled religious leader Fethullah Gulen, whom the leadership accused of orchestrating a failed coup.

    Golge was sentenced in 2018 to seven and a half years in prison for being a member of an armed "terrorist" organisation despite Washington's protests that he was convicted without credible evidence.

    Two US senators last month introduced a bipartisan bill requiring the imposition of sanctions on Turkish officials responsible for the detentions of US citizens and local consulate staff in Turkey, a statement on the legislation said.

    Crackdown

    Turkey in October also released an American pastor caught up in the crackdown, Andrew Brunson, who had become a cause celebre among President Donald Trump's conservative Christian base.

    Authorities have carried out regular operations against the alleged followers of Gulen, in the wake of the coup attempt on the night of July 15, 2016. 

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    He has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, and Gulen denies allegations he was behind the coup.

    More than 77,000 people have been jailed pending trial, while some 150,000 civil servants, military personnel and others have been sacked or suspended from their jobs as part of the post-coup purges.

    Rights groups and Turkey's Western allies have voiced concerns over the crackdown, saying President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has used the failed overthrow attempt as a pretext to quash dissent.

    The government has said the security measures were necessary due to the gravity of the threat Turkey faces.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies