Yellow Ribbon Project

Turkey Trims Unjust Sentence for NASA Scientist, Won't Release U.S. Citizen

The State Department today lauded a decision by a Turkish court to knock a couple years off the sentence of an imprisoned NASA scientist, while noting that the case against Serkan Gölge is “unjust.”

Gölge’s 7.5 year sentence, handed down in February, was reduced to five years behind bars — sending him into another appellate process at a higher court that could take years.

Gölge and his family were visiting his parents in Turkey in July 2016 when he was arrested in the regime’s post-coup sweeps. He has reportedly suffered harsh treatment behind bars because he refused Turkish authorities’ request to use his NASA position to spy for the Turkish government.

His wife, Kubra, also a U.S. citizen, has been forced to sell the family home in Houston to try to make ends meet. “When I read the newspapers, I feel frustrated sometimes like they’re only trying to save Brunson but not us,” she told NBC News. Kubra has been banned from leaving Turkey with their sons, ages 2 and 7.

Kubra noted that an April letter signed by 66 senators warning Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of retaliatory action if pastor Andrew Brunson isn’t released did not name any of the other U.S. hostages held by the regime. “I feel frustrated; [Brunson’s] not the only guy whose life went down,” she said. “We are also citizens.”

Gölge was a senior research scientist on NASA’s mission to Mars project before his imprisonment.

State Department press secretary Heather Nauert said in a statement today, “We welcome the Turkish Court of Appeals’ decision to reduce the sentence against Dr. Gölge.”

“That said, we continue to believe that the case against Dr. Gölge lacks credible evidence and that he should be freed immediately to be reunited with his family,” Nauert said. “We will continue to follow Dr. Gölge’s case closely, along with other unjust prosecutions against U.S. citizens and our own locally employed staff at Mission Turkey.”

Turkey has kept Ismail Kul, a chemistry professor at Widener University in Pennsylvania who has lived in the U.S. for 25 years, from leaving the country since August 2016; he was vacationing in the country when he was detained after the coup attempt. Turkey also holds three U.S. Foreign Service nationals — Hamza Uluçay, Metin Topuz, and Nazmi Mete Canturk — diplomatic workers who have given decades of service to America.