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UN demands release of Turkish judge serving on war crimes panel

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The United Nations has demanded the release of Turkish judge Aydın Sefa Akay, who is serving on the UN war crimes panel and was arrested in Turkey in September as part of a government witch-hunt following a failed coup in Turkey on July 15.

Theodor Meron, the president of the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT), told the UN General Assembly that Turkey had repeatedly ignored his requests to visit Akay since his arrest and that this risked violating judicial independence.

“As a result of his detention, the proceedings have come to a standstill,” he said.

Akay, who was trying crimes from the Yugoslav wars and the Rwandan genocide, was arrested on Sept. 21 despite his diplomatic immunity, over links to the coup attempt on July 15.

The 66-year-old judge is a member of a five-member UN panel assigned in July to review the judgment of former Rwandan planning minister Augustin Ngirabatware.

Meron demanded Turkey “immediately release judge Akay from detention and enable him to resume his lawfully-assigned judicial functions” on the UN panel.

Akay was appointed by Turkey as a judge within the tribunal. He also formerly served as a diplomat for Turkey.

The MICT was established by the United Nations Security Council in December 2010 to carry out a number of essential functions of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), after the completion of their respective mandates.

Since the attempted coup in July, Turkish authorities have cracked down on those with suspected ties to US-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who is the inspiration behind the Gülen movement, popularly known as the Hizmet Movement.

While Gülen continuously has denied the accusations by the Turkish government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey blames Gülen for inciting the July coup attempt.

More than 120,000 people have been sacked, over 74,000 detained and nearly 34,000 arrested in the military, security forces, judiciary, civil service, education and media in Turkey since a state of emergency was declared after the failed coup.

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