Turkish authorities ordered the detention of 34 people on Tuesday, including teachers, nurses and active and dismissed police officers, for allegedly using the ByLock smartphone application, the Stockholm Center for Freedom reported, citing the TR724 news website.
As part of two separate investigations launched by the İstanbul and Ankara chief public prosecutor’s offices, Turkish police have detained 28 of the suspects in operations across the country, while efforts were underway to detain the remaining six suspects.
ByLock, once widely available online, has been considered a secret tool of communication among supporters of the faith-based Gülen movement since a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, despite the lack of any evidence that ByLock messages were related to the abortive putsch.
Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government launched a war against the Gülen movement, a worldwide civic initiative inspired by the ideas of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, after the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013 that implicated then-prime minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s family members and inner circle.
Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy, the AKP government designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. They intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that they accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.
The detentions came despite a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) that found the use of ByLock not to constitute a criminal offense.
The ECtHR ruled in July 2021 in the case of former police officer Tekin Akgün that the use of the ByLock application is not an offense in itself and does not constitute sufficient evidence for an arrest. The Strasbourg court’s ruling came as a source of hope for thousands of people who were arrested or sentenced on terrorism charges based mainly on a National Intelligence Organization (MİT) report that detailed users of ByLock. However, detentions and arrests based on ByLock use continued unabated in Turkey.
The UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention stated in October 2018 that detention, arrest, and conviction based on ByLock use in Turkey violated Articles 19, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.