14 detained in Turkey over use of ByLock messaging app despite ECtHR rulings

Although the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has in several cases made clear that use of the ByLock messaging app does not constitute a criminal offense, Turkish police on Wednesday detained 14 people due to their use of the application, Turkish Minute reported, citing the Tr724 news website.

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.

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

The detention of the 14 people took place in İstanbul and İzmir as part of an investigation launched by the İzmir Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.

The detainees are also accused of having an account Islamic lender Bank Asya, which was closed down by the government following the coup attempt due to its affiliation with the Gülen movement.

The detentions come despite a landmark ruling from the Grand Chamber of the 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 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 have continued unabated in Turkey.

Following the coup attempt, the Turkish government accepted such activities as having an account at the Bank Asya, one of Turkey’s largest commercial banks at the time; using the  ByLock messaging application, which was available on Apple’s App Store and Google Play; and subscribing to the Zaman daily or other publications affiliated with members of the movement as benchmarks for identifying and arresting alleged followers of the Gülen movement on charges of membership in a terrorist organization.

The Strasbourg case also ruled in another cases that use of ByLock or having an account at Bank Asya do not constitute criminal offenses.

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