THE STORIES BEHIND THE HEADLINES

Abu Dhabi

London

New York

Tuesday 20th March 2018

US Scientists Jailed in Turkey Are Victims and Hostages to Politics

Politics

Ahmed Fathi

Mon, 10 Jun 2019 07:54 GMT

Turkey's regime has arrested several scientists, particularly American scientists and professors, since the so-called attempted coup in mid-July 2016. This, it can be argued, shows Ankara’s policy for the imposition of repression and suppression of freedoms on the scientific community to ‘erase’ science.

Regarding the Americans jailed in Turkey, one is a NASA scientist who was vacationing with relatives in Turkey. Another is a Christian missionary who has lived in Turkey for 23 years. Others include a visiting chemistry professor from Pennsylvania and his brother, a real estate agent. They are among a dozen Americans who have been jailed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's regime and face long prison sentences for allegedly playing a part in a failed coup . 

Of these, Serkan Golge, a former Turkish-American NASA scientist, detained in Turkey for nearly three years, is the latest to be released by the Turkish authorities. After being initially sentenced to 7.5 years in prison, in July 2016, he then saw his sentenced reduced to five years before finally being released on probation last week. 

Golge, 39, based in Houston, Texas, was caught in the same dragnet that has ensnared tens of thousands of Turkish nationals since the failed coup attempt that played out in Turkey during the night of July 15, 2016. 

The scale of the Turkish government’s crackdown since that chaotic night is difficult to comprehend, but this scientist’s story illustrates the kind of ordinary lives that the sweeping purges upended with only the slimmest of justifications, according to the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). 

Golge’s mind, once immersed in scientific observation and the boundless expanse of outer space, was mostly trapped in the contemplation of his small prison cell and the national political drama that landed him there. 

For the past three years, he has been detained in Iskenderun prison on the Mediterranean coast of south-eastern Turkey, 25 miles from the Syrian border. He has spent about two years in solitary confinement, allowed outside his cell just one hour every day. 

On the morning of July 23rd, eight days after the failed coup, Golge and his family were wrapping up a month-long stay with his parents in Antakya, Turkey. But as Golge and his family were loading up a car to go to the airport to begin their return trip to Houston, the coup’s aftermath arrived at their doorstep. 

Plain-clothes state security officials approached Golge as he emerged from the house and detained him on suspicion of membership of the so-called “Fethullah Terrorist Organization” (FETO) that the Turkish government has accused of plotting the overthrow attempt, in addition to being a CIA operative. “FETO” is the pejorative term used by Erdogan's regime for a major social and religious movement in Turkey led by the Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999. 

The scientist's experience reflects the plight of the tens of thousands of people arrested, imprisoned, or fired from their jobs for suspicion of involvement in the attempted coup. The state of emergency decrees, that paved the way for these massive purges, did not specify the criteria for detention and dismissal. 

As a result, baseless assertions about an individual’s suspected links to “FETO” have caused people to lose their jobs, be stripped of their professional licenses, or thrown in jail without even the most minimal due process. 

In an interview with AFP, Golge said that his release on May 29th came shortly after a telephone conversation between Erdogan and US President Donald Trump. 

On March 21st, Turkey's regime declared that the authorities have arrested more than half a million people since the failed coup attempt in 2016 on suspicion of being linked to Fathullah Gulen. Meanwhile, Germany has warned its citizens against travelling to Turkey for fear of being arrested for expressing their opinion. 

"Five thousand members of the Fatahullah Gulen movement have been detained since July 15, 2016," Interior Minister Suleiman Suwailo said. "The number of detainees is currently 30,821."

Erdogan’s crackdown since then has swept up tens of thousands of Turks, including military officials, police officers, judges, journalists and others, in prosecutions and purges that are wrenching Turkey back to darker eras it had appeared to have left behind, according to NYT. 

Beyond Golge, there is concern about other Turkish-Americans, or Turks who worked with Americans, being held in jail. 

Then there is the case of Ismail Kul, a Pennsylvania chemistry professor who cannot return to the United States, despite being an American citizen. 

Kul, who worked at Widener University and had been living in the US for 25 years, was vacationing in Turkey at the time of the botched coup. He was detained in the crackdown and only released in January 2018, but is still not able to leave the country, Fox News has reported. 

Another American, Clyde Forsberg, considers himself one of the lucky ones who “got out early.” The American professor was detained in Turkey in August 2016, after being accused of “aiding and abetting a terrorist organization”. 

According to Fox News, Forsberg called on Washington to keep pressure on Turkey until "every American in Turkey falsely charged is released and indemnified for their losses. I would demand that the Trump administration and Congress continue to tighten the economic thumbscrews”.

In addition, relations between Turkey and the United States, both members of NATO, have soured in recent years over a number of security issues. Turkish authorities have been angered by Washington's support for Kurdish rebels in Syria and failure to extradite Gulen. 

Moreover, the arrest of the US pastor by Turkish authorities, who was released in October 2018 after two years in prison, sparked the crisis, prompting Washington to impose sanctions on Ankara. 

Recently, Turkey’s plans to acquire an S-400 defence system from Russia have also been a major contention between the two allies. 

Unsurprisingly, some American analysts have described the Americans detained in Turkey after the alleged military coup as "victims and hostages to politics". 


Middle East US & Canada