Twenty-eight people released by Turkish courts as first group who jailed over ByLock allegedly by mistake

The first group of people, who were arbitrarily imprisoned by Turkish government over alleged use of mobile phone messaging application ByLock, as part of its ongoing massive post-coup witch hunt targeting the alleged members of the Gülen movement, were released on Thursday.

State-run Anadolu news agency has reported that the release of 28 people follows an announcement Wednesday that some alleged ByLock users had been unwittingly “directed” to the app. Among the people freed from jail was Mustafa Yaman, the lawyer for the Felicity Party, who was sentenced to 7 years, 6 months over his purported use of ByLock.

Investigators have allegedly discovered that 11,480 smartphone users were directed to ByLock app without their knowledge. They have been removed from an updated list of alleged ByLock users passed to prosecutors across Turkey and courts have been told to reexamine cases.

Turkish authorities believe that ByLock is a communication tool among the alleged followers of the Gülen movement. Tens of thousands of people, including civil servants, police officers, soldiers, businessmen and even housewives, have either been dismissed or arrested for using ByLock since the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on Wednesday stated that 11,480 GSM users were found to have been involuntarily directed to mobile phone application ByLock, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

The legal status of the 11,480 mobile phone users will be re-evaluated, prosecutors said. Yüksel Kocaman, Ankara Chief  Prosecutor has claimed that “Nearly a thousand people, who were found to have been directed to ByLock through Mor Beyin application, have been in jail in different provinces ,” and added that “They will be released unless there is another proof against them.”

He claimed that Kemalettin Cengiz Erbakırcı, who is a former employee of Scientific and Technological Research Council (TÜBİTAK) had made the software and fled Turkey four days after a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016. He also said the prosecutor’s office issued an arrest warrant and launched an investigation against him.

Tens of thousands of people, including civil servants, police officers, soldiers, businessmen and homemakers, have either been dismissed or arrested for using ByLock since a failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

Freedom House, a US-based independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world, listed Turkey in its newly released “Freedom on the Net 2017” as among the countries in which Internet freedoms are restricted the most and said tens of thousands of Turkish citizens have been arbitrarily detained for their alleged use of the encrypted communications app ByLock.

The Supreme Court of Appeals’ Assembly of Criminal Chambers ruled that the ByLock smart phone application is to be considered evidence of membership in a terrorist organization following Turkish Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül’s remarks on ByLock constituting strong evidence of terrorist organization membership.

The Guardian reported on a study commissioned by opponents of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan which argues that the arrest of 75,000 suspects primarily because they downloaded the ByLock app was arbitrary and illegal.

“The evidence that the [ByLock] app was used exclusively by those who were members or supporters of the Gülen movement [is] utterly unconvincing and unsupported by any evidence,” the two barristers conducting the study said, according to the Guardian.”

Dutch cyber security firm Fox-IT said on Sept. 13 that it had debunked a report by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) on the ByLock smartphone application as it discovered inconsistencies and manipulations.

In a statement on its website, Fox-IT said the quality of the MİT report on ByLock is very low, especially when weighed against the legal consequences of the report, which is the basis of detention for 75,000 Turkish citizens, mainly sympathizers of the Gülen movement.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. Turkey’s Interior Minister announced on December 12, 2017 that 55,665  people have been arrested. Previously, on December 13, 2017, The Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

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