ByLock was used as pretext to arrest critics of Erdoğan gov’t, ex-MP claims


A former Turkish lawmaker claimed that, in the aftermath of a 2016 coup attempt, Turkish government arrested its critics under the pretext of alleged use of smart phone messaging app ByLock, even if they never had the app on their phones.

According to Turkish Minute, Hüseyin Aygün, a lawyer and former MP from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), on Thursday said in a series of tweets that two jailed police officers told him, soon after the abortive putsch, that they had added the AKP critics’ names to the list of people to be arrested over ByLock use.

“Every morning, we were receiving ‘ByLock lists.’ We were organizing and then sending them to the prosecutor’s office and other offices. We then started to receive another list of names to be added to the ‘ByLock lists’ and we did it. … Those people didn’t use ByLock but were wanted [by the gov’t] to be arrested,” Aygün quoted the policemen as saying.

The former MP added that the officers he talked to in Sincan Prison in Ankara were also arrested soon after they had seen their names on the additional list of people to be added to the list of those to be arrested over ByLock use.

“From the very beginning, ByLock was dubious as ‘evidence.’ Thousands of people were arrested, fired from their jobs and had their families torn apart due to reports … by these two police officers. The main purpose was ‘to purge those who oppose the government and establish a new regime.’ Didn’t the July 15 coup also serve this purpose?”Aygün said.

Turkish authorities claim that ByLock is a communication tool exclusively used by members of the Gülen movement to ensure the privacy of their conversations. The app was permanently shut down in March 2016, before the movement was declared a terrorist organization by the Turkish government.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish 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 a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

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. Over 130,000 public servants, including 4,156 judges and prosecutors, as well as 29,444 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.

Aygün’s claims come after a decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) made public on Tuesday, which faulted Turkey over the pre-trial detention of Tekin Akgün, a former police officer, in October 2016, due to his alleged use of ByLock.

Ruling that Turkey violated Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security) of the European Convention on Human Rights as well as Article 5 § 3 (entitlement to trial within a reasonable time or to release pending trial) and Article 5 § 4 (right to a speedy decision on the lawfulness of detention) in the pre-trial detention of Akgün, the European court ordered Turkey to pay the former officer 12,000 euros in non-pecuniary damages and an additional 1,000 euros for costs and expenses.

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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