Former public servant rearrested after serving more than 5 years for alleged Gülen movement links

Selami Bal, on the right.

Selami Bal, a former public servant who was fired from his job in a wide-ranging purge in the aftermath of a July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, was arrested again for allegedly violating a travel ban in March while out pending appeal after having served over five years in prison, the Kronos news website reported on Wednesday.

A new case was filed at the Erzincan 2nd High Criminal Court against Bal for violating a travel ban due to his visit to relatives in Edirne, a city in northwestern Turkey, near the border with Greece and Bulgaria.

Bal had been released from prison in 2022 while his conviction was under review by an appeals court.

Bal has been held at the Edirne L-Type Prison for the past two months.

“It’s impossible to believe that he wanted to escape. My spouse has already served his time, so why would he want to escape? The authorities have to show evidence,” his wife İlkay Bal said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by 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.

Bal was previously sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison on conviction of alleged links to the Gülen movement following his dismissal from the Erzincan Provincial Health Directorate and was released in April 2022 pending appeal after serving five years, eight months.

The time he has spent behind bars already covers the time he is required to serve even if his sentence is upheld, the reports pointed out.

Bal’s alleged use of the ByLock mobile phone app and depositing money in an account at Bank Asya, a Turkish bank that was shut down by government decree, were considered evidence against him.

The Turkish government accepted such daily activities as having an account at or depositing money in a Gülen movement-affiliated bank, working at any institutions linked to the movement or subscribing to certain newspapers and magazines as benchmarks for identifying and arresting tens of thousands alleged members of the movement on charges of membership in a terrorist organization.

Although the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has in several cases made clear that use of the ByLock messaging app does not constitute a criminal offense, following the coup attempt the Turkish government accepted using the application, which was available on Apple’s App Store and Google Play, for identifying and arresting alleged followers of the movement on charges of membership in a terrorist organization.

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 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.

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