Former footballer Zafer Biryol to serve sentence on conviction of Gülen links

Former football player and coach Zafer Biryol (46), who in 2020 was convicted of ties to the faith-based Gülen movement and sentenced to six years, three months in prison, was arrested in İstanbul on Thursday, Turkish media reported.

Biryol had been released pending the results of an appeal that failed and now is required to serve his sentence.

Biryol is accused of using the ByLock smartphone application, once widely available online and considered by the government to be a tool of secret communication among supporters of the movement since a coup attempt in 2016 despite the lack of any evidence that ByLock messages were related to the abortive putsch. He is also accused of having an account at Bank Asya, which was closed by the government after the coup attempt because of its ties to the Gülen movement, and of visiting Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen in the United States in 2006.

The İstanbul police and the pro-government Turkish media reported that Biryol was “hiding” in a house in İstanbul and was “on the run.” However, Biryol, who was at home at the time of his arrest, tweeted, “It is dishonorable to report that the person you arrested while sitting in his house drinking tea was caught on the run.”


Biryol will appear in court for remand to prison after questioning at the police station.

Biryol achieved numerous successes playing for well-known Turkish teams such as Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe and Bursaspor.

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.

Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement 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 locked up thousands including many prosecutors, judges and police officers involved in the investigation as well as journalists who reported on them.

Following the coup attempt the Turkish government accepted such activities as having an account at the now-closed Bank Asya, one of Turkey’s largest commercial banks at the time, using the ByLock encrypted 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.

According to a statement from Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ in July, 117,208 people have been convicted, with 1,366 sentenced to life in prison and 1,634 to aggravated life with no chance of parole following the coup attempt. While 87,519 people have been acquitted of charges specifically related to the Gülen movement since the coup attempt, according to Bozdağ, there are doubts about the number of people who have been acquitted of all charges by a court of law.

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