| Center for Advanced Studies of Accelerators

NASA scientist facing charges in Turkey, diplomat confirms

A Texas-based NASA scientist is the subject of legal action in Turkey, and is being detained there, a Turkish diplomat confirmed to AMI Newswire Thursday.

Although Turkey has provided provided few details about the reported arrest last month of 39-year-old Serkan Golge, a Turkish embassy response to AMI Newswire's Wednesday story on Golge confirmed that the scientist is facing legal charges. 

"The subject of Ms. Keating’s article Serkan Golge is a Turkish citizen," wrote Ferhat Alkan, Consul General of the Republic of Turkey in Houston, Texas. "There should be no doubt that the process will be conducted in full respect to fundamental rights and freedoms and the rule of law, as prescribed by Turkish laws."

A native of Turkey, Golge has studied and worked in the United States since emigrating in 2003. He has conducted experiments here in nuclear physics, and has been studying astronaut health for NASA. This summer, he embarked on a regular holiday to visit family in Turkey.

A neighbor there allegedly told authorities the scientist was a spy for the CIA, the American Institute of Physics reported in its publication Physics Today. Golge subsequently was arrested.

He may have been seized as part of a vast sweep of people suspected of supporting Muhammed Fethullah Gulen, a 75-year-old Turkish imam and political figure whom Turkey blames for orchestrating the July 15 attempted coup against its President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Gulen has been living in the United States since 1999, and has denied orchestrating the coup.

In the email regarding Golge, Alkan wrote that Gulen's group staged the coup, and that the group maintains an extensive network that includes business circles, press, and academia.  "Those suspected to be part of this terrorist organization will be duly investigated and prosecuted if necessary," Alkan wrote.

Golge's plight became known within the American scientific community in July, when he did not return home as expected. Former colleagues at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, Virginia, where Golge performed research, expected him to return to the United States on July 24, but they have not heard from him since July 20, Physics Today reported.

The U.S. government has remained silent on Golge. "We have seen the same reports, but cannot comment due to privacy concerns," a State Department spokesman told AMI Newswire.

The Turkish diplomat, however, acknowledged that the missing scientist is the subject of "a pending judicial case." As such, the diplomat wrote in an email, he could not comment further on Golge. 

"Rest assured that the process is being conducted in full respect to fundamental rights, freedoms and the rule of law, as prescribed by the Turkish Constitution and relevant legislation," Alkan wrote.

The American scientific and human rights communities are pushing for information on the missing scientist.

"He is alive, and the State Department is aware of his situation but they haven't commented on his situation," said Ebby Abramson, who is tracking the case for Endangered Scholars Worldwide.

As of Aug. 14, Golge likely was being held in a detention center in Hatay region, Abramson said.  "I am not 100 percent sure whether he has been transferred to the capital by now or not." 

American scientists have asked Vice President Joe Biden to intervene on Golge's behalf when he visits Turkey this week.

"He is a scientist with NASA and we are quite concerned about his well-being," wrote five scientists in a July 16 letter to Biden. The Committee of Concerned Scientists co-chairs implored Biden to seek Golge's release. Biden's office did not respond to an inquiry as to whether he received the letter, and whether he will address the case.

Golge's status may be muddled by questions about his citizenship.

Alkan said he is a Turkish citizen. But he also has an American passport, according to Carol Valoris, executive director for the Committee of Concerned Scientists. "It was verified."

The Turkish diplomat did not respond to questions from AMI as to Golge's whereabouts, health, and whether he can receive mail or visitors.

In late July, the State Department authorized the families of American diplomats to leave Turkey in light of instability there. "The U.S. Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens of increased threats from terrorist groups throughout Turkey and to avoid travel to southeastern Turkey," the agency posted on its website.

In July, NASA cancelled its participation in an international space science conference to be held in Turkey.

The organizers ultimately called off the meeting. In August, the Iowa National Guard cancelled a scheduled training exercise in Turkey. The organization cited concerns about participants' security.