Turkey sentences UN war crimes judge on terrorism charges

The Hague says Aydin Sefa Akay was convicted on a single charge of membership in "FETO." The UN court decries the sentencing as a "further breach of Judge Akay’s protected status."

Photo by: Reuters (Archive)
Photo by: Reuters (Archive)

The Peace Palace, which houses the International Court of Justice, is seen in The Hague, July 22, 2010.

Turkey has sentenced a UN war crimes judge to 7 years and six months in prison on charges of "membership in a terrorist organisation," an international court in The Hague said on Thursday.

The Turkish government had detained Aydin Sefa Akay, a judge and diplomat, in September last year, along with thousands of other suspects, for alleged links to FETO, which Turkey says is a terrorist organisation that is headed by US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen.

FETO is the acronym Ankara uses for the Gulen network, which it calls the Fethullah Terrorist Organisation, and has held responsible for masterminding the attempted putsch in July 2016 in which more than 240 people had died. Gulen, who has been living in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999, denies involvement in the failed coup.

The UN court said in a statement that Turkey's actions constituted a "further breach of Judge Akay’s protected status," as UN judges have diplomatic immunity under international law.

Akay is a judge at the MICT, The Hague court set up to handle final appeals and other remaining cases from the Yugoslav and Rwanda war crimes tribunals, which are being wound down.

At the time of his arrest, Akay was part of a panel assembled to determine if new evidence showed Rwandan Augustin Ngirabatware had been wrongfully convicted of genocide and imprisoned for 35 years.

That proceeding has been delayed by Akay's absence.

According to a statement by the MICT, Akay was convicted on Tuesday on a single charge of membership in "FETO."

MICT President Theodor Meron said that Akay's arrest, "detention, and legal proceedings against him are inconsistent with the assertion of his diplomatic immunity by the United Nations, as well as the binding judicial order (to release him that the MICT) ... issued in January 2017."