Freed US scientist of Turkish origin vows to clear name

Former Turkish-American NASA scientist Serkan Golge speaks with AFP at his parents' home in Hatay Province on Friday. (AFP)
Updated 09 June 2019

Freed US scientist of Turkish origin vows to clear name

  • Serkan Golge was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison in July 2016 on charges of having ties with Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen
  • His prison sentence was reduced to five years before finally being released on probation last week

ANTAKYA, Turkey: A former Turkish-American NASA scientist, detained in Turkey for nearly three years until his release last week, told AFP in an interview that he would do everything he could to clear his name.

The arrest of Serkan Golge — who took US citizenship in 2010 and has worked for NASA in Houston since 2013 — is just one of a number of incidents that have caused relations between Washington and Ankara to deteriorate sharply in recent years.

US Consulate staff, journalists and even an American pastor have all been detained, accused of having ties with Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen, who is in exile in the US and whose extradition Ankara has requested over his alleged role in the failed July 2016 coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Pastor Andrew Brunson was released in October 2018.

Golge, 39, was initially sentenced to 7.5 years in prison in July 2016, but then saw it reduced to five years before finally being released on probation last week.

In an interview at his parents’ home in Antakya, southern Turkey, he said people tended to believe there must be something to the charges if a NASA scientist is detained for so long.

But “I will give you an answer straight out: There was nothing,” he insisted. Golge said he was arrested on an “anonymous tip,” of which there were many in the months following the coup attempt.

Vowing to take his case to both Turkey’s Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights, Golge pledged to “do whatever I have to do to fulfil my obligations” in the meantime. These included reporting to police four days a week and not leaving Antakya.

Nevertheless, the scientist is hoping that the restrictions will be lifted so that he can “go back to the US and get back to my work” as part of a team studying the impact of space radiation on astronauts.

Golge said his release on May 29 came shortly after a telephone conversation between Erdogan and US President Donald Trump.

He learned about it at 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. and it all “happened in 15-to-20 minutes,” he said.

Golge said he was kept in isolation and only allowed out of his cell for an hour a day.

The ordeal left both him and his family scarred forever, not to mention the devastating impact it had on their financial situation.

Golge said his wife became so pale and thin during the first weeks after his arrest that he barely recognized her when she visited.

It also deeply affected his sons, now aged three and eight, who came to fear that their father would never be released, Golge said.

His youngest son was only three months old when Golge was arrested.

“He calls me ‘Dad’ but he doesn’t know me that well,” he said.

“They say time heals most of the things ... but I don’t believe that. I think it heals most of the things but some of the things we experienced will stay with us forever.”

Lebanese block roads as protests enter fourth month

Updated 17 January 2020

Lebanese block roads as protests enter fourth month

  • The protest movement rocking Lebanon since October 17
  • The protest movement is in part fueled by the worst economic crisis

BEIRUT: Protesters blocked several main roads across Lebanon on Friday as unprecedented demonstrations against a political elite accused of corruption and incompetence entered their fourth month.
The protest movement rocking Lebanon since October 17 has resurged this week, over delays in forming a new cabinet to address the country’s growing economic crisis.
No progress seemed to have been made on a final lineup, which protesters demand be made up solely of independent experts and empty of traditional political parties.
In central Beirut, dozens of protesters Friday stood between parked cars blocking a key thoroughfare linking the city’s east and west.
“We blocked the road with cars because it’s something they can’t move,” Marwan Karam said.
The protester condemned what he regarded as efforts to form yet another government representing the usual carve-up of power between the traditional parties.
“We don’t want a government of masked political figures,” the 30-year-old told AFP. “Any such government will fall. We won’t give it any chance in the street.”
Forming a new cabinet is often a drawn-out process in Lebanon, where a complex system seeks to maintain balance between the various political parties and a multitude of religious confessions.
Nearby, Carlos Yammine, 32, said he did not want yet another “cake-sharing government.”
“What we have asked for from the start of the movement is a reduced, transitional, emergency government of independents,” he said, leaning against his car.

Elsewhere, demonstrators closed roads including in Lebanon’s second city of Tripoli, though some were later reopened, the National News Agency said.
The protest movement is in part fueled by the worst economic crisis that Lebanon has witnessed since its 1975-1990 civil war.
The protests this week saw angry demonstrators attack banks following the imposition of sharp curbs on cash withdrawals to stem a liquidity crisis.
On Thursday night, protesters vandalized three more banks in the capital’s Hamra district, smashing their glass fronts and graffitiing ATMs, an AFP photographer said.
Earlier, Lebanon’s security services released most of the 100-plus protesters detained over the previous 48 hours, lawyers said.
Human Rights Watch on Friday condemned the arrests and the response of security forces to protests outside a police station on Wednesday night demanding detainees be released.
“The unacceptable level of violence against overwhelmingly peaceful protesters on January 15 calls for a swift independent and transparent investigation,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at the rights watchdog.
Over the past few months, the Lebanese pound — long pegged to the US dollar at 1,507 — has fallen in value on the unofficial market to around 2,500.
The World Bank has warned that the poverty rate in Lebanon could rise from a third to a half if the political crisis is not remedied fast.