UN working group requests immediate release of former Turkish military cadet sentenced to life in prison

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) found at its 89th session held between November 21 and 27, 2020 that Ahmet Dinçer Sakaoğlu, one of 70 former air force cadets in Turkey who were sentenced to life on charges related to a coup attempt in July 2016, should be released immediately and accorded an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations in accordance with international law.

The WGAD requested that the Turkish government take the steps necessary to remedy the situation of Sakaoğlu without delay and bring it into conformity with the relevant international norms, including those set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The former military cadets, who were jailed for seven months following the coup attempt and then released pending trial, were handed down life sentences by the İstanbul 24th High Criminal Court in January 2020 on charges of attempting to overturn the constitutional order by means of a coup attempt.

The working group’s recent opinion on Sakaoğlu would set a precedent for more than 300 other former military cadets who were also sentenced to life in prison for allegedly participating in the abortive putsch.

In response to the Turkish government request for special procedure, the working group underlined that it makes no distinction as to who can or cannot bring allegations to its attention, saying it “treats all submissions made to it equally and accepts them as allegations, inviting the concerned Government to respond.”

On the basis of the foregoing, WGAD has commented that the detention of Sakaoğlu constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of his liberty under international human rights law and has rendered the following opinion: “The deprivation of liberty  of Ahmet Dinçer Sakaoğlu, being in  contravention of articles 1, 2, 3, 8,  9, 10  and 11of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and articles 2(3), 9, 14 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is arbitrary and falls within categories I, III and V.”

The group further said news reports published during the trial that refer to Sakaoğlu and other military cadets arrested on coup-related charges as “traitors” and “terrorists” violated the presumption of innocence. The Turkish government failed to provide the former military cadet with an independent and impartial tribunal, it also said.

The WGAD emphasized that the presumption of innocence is one of the fundamental principles of a fair trial and thus non-derogable and guarantees that no guilt can be presumed until the charge has been proved beyond reasonable doubt.

Then-Air Force Commander Gen. Abidin Ünal and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

According to his statement, Sakaoğlu was taken out of the Air Force Academy by his commanders on account of “a terrorist attack,” and the commanders placed Sakaoğlu and other military cadets on a street to provide periphery security in Beşiktaş, a district of İstanbul.

“The military cadets, including Mr. Sakaoğlu, did not take any action other than to obey simple military orders for support against the said terrorist attack, such as ‘get on the bus,’ ‘get off the bus,’ ‘stop’ and ‘walk.’ Such orders were given by the military commanders, who were appointed by their state-appointed superiors,” the WGAD stressed.

Turkish media reports revealed the fact that then-Air Forces Commander Gen. Abidin Ünal visited the cadets’ training camp in Yalova on the day of the abortive putsch and underlined the importance of carrying out the orders of their commanders during his speech.

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