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NASA scientist, kept in prison by Turkey over Gülen links, returns to US: report

An American NASA scientist returned with his family to the United States early Tuesday morning after nearly four years of imprisonment and house arrest in Turkey, and more than seven months after President Donald Trump said he had secured an agreement for his release, The New York Times reported.

The scientist, Serkan Gölge, arrived in Washington on a commercial flight shortly after midnight, ending a tortuous journey for him and his family, who had become caught up in increasingly fraught Turkish-American relations.

At a White House briefing in November with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Trump announced that Gölge would be heading home and personally thanked his Turkish counterpart for releasing Gölge from detention, though he remained under judicial control for several more months.

Gölge’s case, along with those of an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, who was held for two years, and three Turkish employees of US consulates, one of whom was sentenced to more than eight years in prison this month, have been seen by US and European officials as a form of hostage-taking for leverage.

Gölge, 40, a naturalized US citizen, holds a Ph.D. in physics from Old Dominion University. He lived near Houston and had worked on preparations for NASA’s Mars mission.

He was detained in July 2016 while visiting his parents in southern Turkey and was accused of being a member of the Gülen movement — he insists he is not — which the government accuses of orchestrating a 2016 coup attempt, although it strongly denies any involvement.

The only evidence of that association that was produced at his trial was that he had held an account at Bank Asya, which was linked to the movement, and that a $1 bill was found in his parents’ house, supposedly a secret sign of membership.

Gölge’s wife, Kübra, and his two children, all American citizens, were also barred from leaving Turkey.

Gölge was fitted with an electronic ankle bracelet to monitor his movements and had to sign in at the local police station four times a week, a regimen that was later reduced to twice and then once a week. His case is still pending at Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals.

The last judicial controls were only finally lifted in April, and international flights, grounded because of the coronavirus pandemic since March, only resumed this month.