May 29, 2019 / 6:26 PM / 2 months ago

Turkey frees former NASA scientist from prison: ruling

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey has released Turkish-American, former NASA scientist Serkan Golge from jail with conditions, according to a court ruling seen by Reuters on Wednesday, in a step that could lead to an easing of tensions in Ankara’s relations with Washington.

Golge was earlier this year found guilty of being a member of an armed terrorist organization and sentenced to seven and a half years in prison.

His sentence was later reduced to five years by an appeals court and he was found guilty of aiding a terrorist organization instead of being a member of one.

Golge has always denied the charges against him.

Turkey’s Court of Cassation, a higher appeals court, upheld Golge’s sentence for aiding a terrorist organization, but ruled to release him due to time he has already served, according to the verdict, seen by Reuters.

He was released under judicial control, according to the ruling, meaning he is not allowed to leave the country and will have to regularly report to local authorities.

Golge was visiting family in southern Turkey when he was arrested in the sweeping crackdown that followed a failed military coup in 2016 which the government blames on supporters of exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in the United States.

Gulen has denied any involvement.

Cases against U.S. consulate employees and citizens in Turkey on terrorism charges have been a major source of disagreement between the NATO allies.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus welcomed Golge’s conditional release. “We will continue to follow Mr. Golge’s case closely along with those involving our own locally employed staff at mission Turkey,” she said.

“We will continue to provide all appropriate consular services to Mr. Golge, including making sure he can return home as soon as possible.”

Washington had been urging Turkey to release Golge and other detainees.

His wife, Kubra Golge, said she was surprised but happy at the decision.

With the move, Golge’s unjust treatment due to the long time he spent in jail has ended, said Ali Bilgin, one of his lawyers.

“The process against the upheld verdict will be continued with the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights,” he said in a statement.

Two U.S. senators last month introduced a bipartisan bill requiring the imposition of sanctions on Turkish officials responsible for the detentions of U.S. citizens and local consulate staff in Turkey, a statement on the legislation said.

One U.S. consulate employee was sentenced to jail in January, but was released due to time served during his trial. The cases of two other consulate employees are ongoing.

Turkey and the United States are at odds over several other issues, including Ankara’s push to purchase Russian S-400 missile defense systems and policy differences in Syria.

Ankara has demanded that the United States extradite Gulen, who it accuses of orchestrating the coup attempt.

Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen in Ankara and David Brunnstrom in Washington; editing by Frances Kerry, Alison Williams and G Crosse

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