In White House Meeting With Erdogan, Trump Doesn't Mention American Jailed in Turkey

Serkan Golge, a scientist at Johnson Space Center, has been held in Turkey since last summer.
Serkan Golge, a scientist at Johnson Space Center, has been held in Turkey since last summer. Photo courtesy of Kubra Golge
Serkan Golge, a 37-year-old scientist employed at the Johnson Space Center and an American citizen who has made his home in Houston the past three years, has been held in Turkey for ten months, with more than seven months spent in solitary confinement, because of vague accusations and a single American $1 bill, as we've reported.

He was one of thousands of people arrested in Turkey in the wake of a failed coup to depose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last summer, and despite the fact that Erdogan was in Washington, D.C., last week, there was no formal push from the White House for Turkey to release Golge.

When President Donald Trump met with Erdogan last week, he praised Erdogan for his fight against terrorism, and kept things light and friendly, according to The New York Times. In other words, Trump, who needs Turkey as an ally in the fight against terrorism, didn't say a word formally during the visit at the White House about Serkan or any of the other U.S. citizens currently being held in Turkey. In fact, the clash between Turkish guards and protesters has gotten more play than the troubling underpinnings of Erdogan's visit.

The Helsinki Commission, an independent U.S. government agency that monitors and encourages compliance with issues like human rights and freedom of the press, recently issued an open letter calling for Trump to push the Turkish president to do something about people like Golge, but to no avail.

Last summer, shortly after the attempted coup, Serkan and his wife, Kubra Golge, were packing up to return to Houston when the police showed up, searched their belongings and arrested Serkan. A few hours later they came back, searched the house and ultimately found a dollar bill in a memory box stored in the old bedroom of Serkan's brother.

Turkish prosecutors claim that Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-based Islamic cleric Erdogan blames for the coup, gave his followers blessed $1 bills. Possession of such a bill is now used as evidence of membership in a terrorist organization in Turkey. Authorities insist this bill belongs to Serkan even though he wasn't even staying in the bedroom it was found in.

Serkan, whose case has gotten scant mention in the American or international media, as we've previously noted, has been imprisoned ever since while he waited to appear before a court. (More than 40,000 Turks have been arrested since the attempted coup, so the judges are exhausted and the courts are backed up, Kubra says.)

During his hearing last month, Serkan was denied bail and there were questions about whether or not he is even an American citizen, questions that Kubra says are ridiculous since the authorities seized her husband's U.S. passport when they arrested him on suspicion of being a CIA operative and a follower of Gülen.

While the prosecutors opted to dismiss the CIA accusation after it was revealed the tipster who notified Turkish authorities was Serkan's sister's brother-in-law, who is angry about a dispute over some family land, they refused to drop the case. Serkan is facing a sentence of up to 15 years in prison for being “a member of an armed terrorist organization” because of that $1 bill.

Now, Golge is slated to have another hearing Friday.

Kubra says that the man who accused her husband of being a spy will be in court to testify and that a representative of the U.S. Embassy will be in attendance, but otherwise she's unsure what the focus of the hearing will be. She is still hoping the man will decide to tell the truth and to admit the accusations he has made against her husband are false.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Dianna Wray is a nationally award-winning journalist. Born and raised in Houston, she writes about everything from NASA to oil to horse races.
Contact: Dianna Wray