SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: August 05, 2016

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution | Travel Restrictions

Institution(s):NASA | The University of Houston

Region & Country:Western Asia | Turkey

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On August 5, 2016, Turkish authorities announced the detention of Serkan Gölge, a scholar of physics, on allegations of connections to the Gülenist movement, which the government has accused of organizing the July 15 coup attempt.

Dr. Gölge is a Turkey-born US citizen who earned his bachelor’s degree at Fatih University, a Gülen-associated institution in Turkey. He went on to complete his graduate and postdoctoral research in the United States, at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility. Since 2013, the University of Houston and NASA’s Johnson Space Center have employed Dr. Gölge as a senior research scientist.

On June 26, 2016, Dr. Gölge joined his wife, children and parents in Hatay, Turkey on a trip to visit relatives. He was scheduled to return to the US on July 24, but did not arrive. Dr. Golge’s colleagues were reportedly unable to reach him by email, and later received reports of his detention over social media and in the Turkish press. On August 5, Hatay Governor Ercan Topaca announced that Dr. Gölge had been detained on allegations of connections to the Gülenist movement. Governor Topaca cited Dr. Gölge’s studies at Gülen-associated institutions in Turkey, as well as claims that he was spying on behalf of the Gülenist movement, as the bases for his detention. Dr. Gölge has reportedly refuted any connections to the movement. As of this report, it is unclear what charges if any have been brought against Dr. Gölge and when, if at all, a hearing will be scheduled.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary detention of a scholar as a part of sweeping actions taken by the State against higher education community members. While State authorities have a right to maintain order and respond to legitimate security concerns, such actions must comply with States’ human rights obligations, including those relating to freedom of opinion and expression, due process, and academic freedom, which are protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Turkey is a party. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally. State authorities have an obligation to comply with internationally recognized standards of academic freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of association, as well as due process and fair trial.

UPDATE: On February 8, 2018, a Turkish court convicted Dr. Gölge of “membership in a terrorist organization.” He has reportedly been sentence to seven and a half years imprisonment. On May 29, 2019, an appeals court upheld Golge’s sentence but ordered his release from prison based on time served prior to his conviction in 2018. Golge’s release, however, is subject to judicial control, meaning that he is not permitted to leave Turkey and must report regularly to local officials.