Thirty-five people, including seven university students, were detained on Tuesday on warrants issued by Turkish prosecutors for alleged links to the Gülen movement, a faith-based group accused by the government of “terrorist” activities, according to local media reports.
As part of an investigation launched by the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, seven university students and two individuals who were accused of providing financial assistance to students were detained on Tuesday. Turkish police conducted operations in two provinces to detain the suspects.
The same office issued detention warrants in a separate investigation for 18 suspects over alleged Gülen links. Police carried out operations in three provinces during which 16 of the suspects were detained.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-prime minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.
Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following an abortive putsch in July 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.
In addition, the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office issued detention warrants for 17 suspects, some of whom were accused of using ByLock, an encrypted messaging app used on smartphones that used to be available on Apple’s App Store and Google Play.
The ByLock messaging app, once widely available online, is considered by the government to be a tool of secret communication among supporters of the movement. The UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has repeatedly stated that arrest and conviction based on ByLock use in Turkey violated Articles 19, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Following the abortive putsch, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. More than 130,000 public servants, including 4,156 judges and prosecutors, as well as 24,706 members of the armed forces, were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” by emergency decree-laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny.
In addition to the thousands who were jailed, scores of other Gülen movement followers had to flee Turkey to avoid the government crackdown.