6 detained in Turkish capital over ByLock use

Turkish police have detained six people in the Turkish capital of Ankara on charges of using the ByLock smartphone application, Turkish Minute reported on Tuesday, citing a statement by the Interior Ministry.

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.

According to the ministry, the police carried out raids to detain eight people, and were able to take six of them into custody — two former doctors, one working nurse and three former nurses, and two former Health Ministry personnel who are accused of links to the movement.

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 detentions come 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.

In 2017 Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals found the use of ByLock to be sufficient evidence for terrorist organization membership. Since then, the appeals court has upheld hundreds of sentences passed by local courts based mainly on ByLock use without checking to see if the user had any message content or if the messages had any criminal content.

The Constitutional Court, too, found no violation of rights of applicants who were sentenced merely based on ByLock use, which it had considered a strong indication for arrest.

The ECtHR’s judgment supersedes the Supreme Court of Appeals and Constitutional Court’s decisions.

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.

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