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Turkey detains 544 in major operation targeting Gülen followers

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Turkey has escalated the mass detention of people over alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement, detaining 544 individuals across the country in a new crackdown on the movement, Agence France-Presse and Turkish media outlets reported.

Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya posted on X that detentions were carried out in 62 of the country’s 81 provinces, targeting “individuals intended by Fetö to enter various levels of the civil service,” using the abbreviation coined by the Turkish government to refer to the movement as a terrorist organization.

“We will not leave members of Fetö alone,” the minister said.

The Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, is accused by the Turkish government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of masterminding a failed coup in July 2016 and is labeled a “terrorist organization,” although the movement denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

The suspects are accused of signing up for public service exams under orders from the Gülen movement and of communicating through the ByLock messaging app, which is considered a secret tool of communication among the movement’s members.

The detentions come despite a landmark ruling from the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) last September that found the use of ByLock not to constitute a criminal offense. The Grand Chamber ruled in the case of former teacher Yüksel Yalçınkaya that 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 have continued unabated in Turkey.

The post-coup crackdown saw tens of thousands of people arrested, more than 130,000 fired or suspended from their jobs and nearly 3,000 sentenced to life in jail.

Turkey regularly asks other countries to extradite Gülen followers and tried to make that a condition of approving Finland and Sweden’s membership in NATO before finally dropping those demands.

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