UN working group urges Turkey to release former cadet sentenced to life on coup charges

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The United Nations Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has found 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, Turkish media reported on Tuesday, citing a summary posted on Twitter by the cadets’ lawyer.

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 is expected to 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.

The UN group stated claims in the opinion that Sakaoğlu was deprived of liberty for an extended period of time before he could appear in court and that his right to access to a lawyer of choice was violated. The authorities failed to provide him with a timely explanation of the reason for his arrest and held him without charge, they added.

The group further underlined that 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.

Taking these rights violations and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s failure to respond to them into account, the working group called on the Turkish government to immediately release Sakaoğlu.

According to air force cadets’ statements, they were taken to İstanbul in buses from Yalova on the night of July 15, 2016 and did not know they were part of a coup attempt.

“The only surprising development taking place on the day of the abortive putsch was an unplanned morning visit by Air Forces Commander Gen. Abidin Ünal to our training camp in Yalova,” the cadets said.

Turkish media reported claims that during a speech to cadets in Yalova, Ünal underlined the importance of carrying out the orders of their commanders.

Columnist Ahmet Nesin wrote on the Artıgerçek news website that during his unplanned visit Ünal told the commander of the camp to cancel all training activities in the afternoon: “He told the commander ‘Don’t tire the boys out; they’ll get tired this evening’.”

After the coup attempt, 355 military cadets were sentenced by various courts to life in prison for taking part in it.

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