Turkish court releases UN judge arrested over alleged Gülen links

UN Judge Aydın sefa Akar was arrested on September 21 by Turkish authorities despite his diplomatic immunity over links to the coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

An Ankara court on Wednesday ruled to release Aydın Sefa Akay, a judge for the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) who was in pre-trial detention in Turkey over alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement.

Akay had been behind bars since September because a smart phone application named ByLock was found to have been installed in his phone.

Turkish authorities believe ByLock is the top communication tool among the followers of the Gülen movement, which is accused by the Turkish government of masterminding a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016. The movement strongly denies any involvement in the putsch.

In the final hearing of his trial at the Ankara 16th High Criminal Court on Wednesday, Akay was handed down a sentence of seven years, six months on charges of membership in a terrorist organization, yet the court decided to release him subject to the imposition of a travel ban.

If Akay’s sentence is upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals, he will be sent to prison to serve his sentence.

Meanwhile, MICT condemned Turkey on for sentencing one of its top judges Akay to seven years in jail on charges of having links to the Gülen movement. MICT president Judge Theodor Meron “deeply regrets this action of the Turkish authorities, in further breach of Judge Akay’s protected status under the international legal framework,” the Hague-based tribunal said in a statement.

Akay’s arrest in September last year, his detention and a legal case against him “are inconsistent with the assertion of his diplomatic immunity by the United Nations,” the MICT said. The MICT stressed “the verdict has yet to acquire legal finality.”

Meron said although he welcomed “as a humanitarian matter that Judge Akay has been provisionally released,” he remains “gravely concerned.” He called on Ankara to “take urgent steps to respect the protected status of Judge Akay and to resolve the situation consistent with international law.”

Akay was charged with “membership in an armed terror group” over alleged links to Gülen movement. He had vehemently denied the charges, which had caused uproar among the international legal community. However, the court found Akay guilty of using Bylock, an encrypted messaging application used by FETÖ members.

On Jan. 31, MICT ordered Turkey to release Akay by Feb. 14 and halt legal proceedings against him.

Akay is a member of a panel of judges that is reviewing the case of a former Rwandan government minister who was convicted of involvement in his country’s 1994 genocide.
He earlier described himself as a Freemason in an effort to prove he had no links to the Gülen movement and said he downloaded ByLock from the Google Play Store to communicate with fellow Masons.

Turkey survived a military coup attempt on July 15 that killed over 240 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting participants of the Gülen movement in jails.

At least 161,751 people were detained or investigated and 50,334 people were arrested in Turkey in the framework of the Turkish government’s massive post-coup witch hunt campaign targeting alleged members of the Gülen movement since the controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016, according to statistics reported by state-run Anadolu news agency by basing on information taken from the officials from Turkey’s Justice Minsitry on June 13. (SCF with turkishminute.com) June 14, 2017

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