Last summer, a Turkish-American physicist working as a research scientist for NASA was swept up in the mass arrests following the alleged coup d'état of President Erdoğan. One year later, he's still in prison with an uncertain future ahead of him.
Serkan Golge, now 37, was working at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Texas at the time of his arrest. As a member of their Space Radiation Analysis Group, his job was to research the effects of space radiation on human astronaut crews. Currently, the work is being used in regards to astronauts onboard the International Space Station, however it will also be used to help plan future interplanetary travel, such as the proposed manned mission to Mars. He studied physics in Istanbul, and moved to the US in 2003 to obtain his PhD from Old Dominion University in Virginia, after which he acquired his US citizenship.
Golge and his family were on a month-long vacation to visit family in Turkey last year, when their trip was interrupted with the alleged coup d'état attempt on President Erdoğan. Airports were shut down, military jets were seen over the capital, anti-government troops took to the streets, and gunshots blasted through the night.
The alleged coup was quickly crushed. However, riding on the panic caused by the attempted coup, Erdoğan installed a three-month state of emergency in the name of security and detained thousands of individuals from the judiciary, military, public sector, and media. Along with this, thousands of academics, teachers, and researchers lost their jobs.
In the midst of this, Golge was arrested outside his parents' house by Turkish government officials on the morning of July 23, 2016.
His indictment, obtained by The Daily Beast, accuses him of being associated with the FETO terror organization, with a US $1 bill and his NASA ID used as evidence. Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Turkish preacher who allegedly inspired the coup attempt, gave $1 bills to his loyal followers. The NASA ID is being used as evidence of connections to the CIA. Golge denies being involved in the movement or taking part in any anti-government activities.
“We had watched the coup on TV like everyone else,” his wife, Mrs Golge told The Telegraph. “If we were guilty we would have run back to America straight away, but we didn’t.
Over the past year, purges have continued to sweep up parts of the scientific community. In July 2016, the Turkish Council of Higher Education called for all 1,577 university deans to leave their posts, although many are expected to be reinstated. Nature News reports that the science agency TÜBİTAK has suspended its fellowships and postponed all major project-funding calls following the news last July. Over 216,000 math and science books are also reported to have been burned as part of the government crackdown.
Almost a year on, the future of Golge – and Turkey’s science community as a whole – remains up in the air. Golge was denied bail in his last hearing on July 4. His next hearing is scheduled for July 19.