MIKE CORDER, AP
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A lawyer for a former Rwandan government minister convicted at a United Nations tribunal of inciting and aiding genocide argued Tuesday that his client’s case is being unfairly delayed because one of the judges involved has been detained by Turkish authorities.
Augustin Ngirabatware, who served as planning minister in Rwanda, is seeking review of his conviction and 30-year prison sentence. His lawyer, Peter Robinson, argued that Ngirabatware should be released from custody until Turkish judge Aydin Sefa Akay is freed and can take part in the case.
Akay was detained last year by Turkish authorities in the aftermath of the country’s failed July 15 coup attempt. Ankara has launched a sweeping purge of perceived followers of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who denies the government’s claim he masterminded the coup attempt.
The detention of an international judge with diplomatic immunity in the mass arrests has now turned into a high-stakes legal standoff in The Hague.
Turkish officials did not attend Tuesday’s hearing at the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, a court established to deal with residual legal issues stemming from U.N. tribunals that prosecuted Balkan war atrocities and the Rwandan genocide.
The mechanism’s president, Judge Theodor Meron, said Turkey’s detention of Akay undermines the principle of judicial immunity that is one of the foundations of the international legal system.
Robinson, Ngirabatware’s lawyer, agreed.
“If a state can arrest a judge and the judge has to be replaced…then our judges are subject to restrictions that any state may choose to impose on them,” he said. “That goes to the very heart of judicial independence.”
Robinson is asking Meron to order Turkey to release Akay or to provisionally release Ngirabatware until the case can continue with Akay on the panel hearing the review.
Prosecutors objected to releasing Ngirabatware from custody, calling him a flight risk.
Meron said he would issue a ruling as soon as possible.
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