Top Europe rights court condemns Turkey over detention of UN judge

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Europe’s top rights court on Tuesday ruled that Turkey had violated the human rights of a former UN judge arrested in the crackdown following the July 2016 coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Aydin Sefa Akay, also a former Turkish diplomat, was arrested in September 2016 and in June 2017 convicted and sentenced to seven years and six months in jail on charges of links to the coup.

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His appeals were unsuccessful and, while he had been released on bail in 2017, he is now serving his sentence in a prison in the Black Sea city of Rize, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said in a statement.

The ECHR found that his pre-trial detention violated his rights under the European Convention on Human Rights which the Strasbourg-based court upholds.

It said Akay was entitled to “full diplomatic immunity” as a judge attached to the UN’s Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, where he had been working on cases related to Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

“His arrest, pre-trial detention, search of his house and person had thus been unlawful,” it added ordering Turkey to pay 21,100 euros in damages, and 7,000 euros costs.

The court however dismissed Akay’s request for it to order his immediate release as its findings only concerned his pre-trial detention.

His conviction was upheld in a final judgement in February 2021 by Turkey’s Court of Cassation.

Akay was convicted for “membership in an armed terror group” over alleged links to the organization of Fethullah Gulen, the US-based preacher blamed by Ankara for the attempted overthrow of Erdogan.

The judge had vehemently denied the charges, which had caused an uproar among the international legal community.

The court found Akay guilty of using Bylock, a special communication service which Ankara claims was especially created for Gulen supporters.

Under a state of emergency imposed after the coup, Turkey embarked on a relentless crackdown against alleged supporters of Gulen, arresting tens of thousands of people.

Turkey is one of 46 members of the Council of Europe and as such is bound by rulings of the ECHR.

But there have been problems over its compliance.

Ankara has notably defied rulings ordering the release of Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtas -- held since November 2016 -- and civil society figure Osman Kavala -- held since October 2017 -- after the ECHR ruled their domestic trials were unfair.

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