U.S. says Turkish court reduced American NASA scientist's sentence to 5 years

A Turkish court has reduced the sentence of Serkan Gölge, a U.S. citizen imprisoned in Turkey for allegedly aiding a terrorist organisation, but has ruled to keep the former NASA scientist behind bars.

Gölge was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison in February after being found guilty of membership of the Gülen organisation, a religious group that Turkey blames for plotting the failed coup attempt in July 2016 and considers a terrorist organisation.

That charge has been overturned and Gölge’s sentence reduced to five years for a new charge of “aiding a terrorist organisation.”

“We welcome the Turkish Court of Appeals’ decision to reduce the sentence against Dr. Golge,” U.S. State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement responding to the court’s verdict.

 “That said, we continue to believe that the case against Dr. Golge lacks credible evidence and that he should be freed immediately to be reunited with his family,” said Nauert.

Gölge was arrested on July 23, 2016, the week after the coup attempt, in his home province of Adana during a family visit.

The prosecution used the U.S. citizen’s possession of a $1 bill, which are said to be used to send coded messages by Gülenists, and possession of an account with a bank owned by Gülen supporters, as evidence against him during the trial.

A relative of Gölge also testified against him. Kübra Gölge, Serkan’s wife, has said relations had soured with this relative over an inheritance dispute.

His conviction in February came after 18 months held in pre-trial detention, during which Gölge was denied access to the U.S. consul.

Serkan Gölge is one of a number of U.S. citizens and employees jailed in Turkey. The State Department criticised Turkey for convicting the scientist without credible evidence in February, but since then his case has been largely overshadowed by that of Andrew Brunson, a U.S. pastor jailed on similar charges.

A bilateral deal to secure Brunson’s release fell through in July, leading to a diplomatic crisis that has seen Turkish ministers sanctioned, the imposition of a tit-for-tat series of tariff hikes, and a serious decline in the Turkish lira.

Nauert stated in early August that the United States would not consider anything but the release of Brunson and all other imprisoned citizens as progress in healing the rift with Turkey.

"We will continue to follow Dr. Golge’s case closely, along with other unjust prosecutions against U.S. citizens and our own locally employed staff at Mission Turkey," Nauert's statement said.