Legal expert says Turkish gov’t and intelligence blackmail people over ByLock app

Lawyer Murat Akkoç

Lawyer Murat Akkoç, an experienced lawyer publishing analysis on the ByLock trials and sample defense petitions, has said that Turkish government, intelligence and security forces uses the ByLock (an encrypted mobile phone messaging app) cases to blackmail people on the allegations of having links to Gülen movement despite the fact that they could not provide any scientific data up until today.

Turkish authorities believe using ByLock is a sign of being a member of the Gülen movement and it is seen as the top communication tool among members of the movement. Tens of thousands of civil servants, police officers and businessmen have either been dismissed or arrested for using ByLock since the controversial coup attempt.

However, lawyer Akkoç has said in an interview published by TR724 online news portal that the ByLock has lost its evidence integrity despite it has been used to detain or dismiss tens of thousands of Turkish citizens over downloading the app. Answering the questions of senior journalist Adam Yavuz Arslan, lawyer Akkoç covered a lot of grounds on the ByLock trials by noting in just the same way as the Ergenekon trials, those ByLock judgments will eventually be rescinded. Akkoç stressed that not 99 percent of those trials, but 100 percent of them will be reversed. “If that does not happen in Turkish courts, it will take place in the European Courts of the Human Rights (ECtHR). Eventually those officers in charge will have to pay an incredible amount of substituted penalty,” told Akkoç.

Speaking of a report published by the National Intelligence Service (MİT) in March 2017 on the ByLock lists, Akkoç said, “As a lawyer, I speak according to the available evidence. MİT’s report says that ByLock was downloaded over 1 million times, and later, it states that it was also downloaded on various APK sites. However, MİT tells ‘we have reduced this number to 215 thousand because of such duplications. After a while, this number dropped to 102 thousand, however, MİT did not provide any scientific data on how it reduced the number of users from 1 million to 102 thousand.”

Referring to this inconsistency of user counts of ByLock in MİT’s report, Akkoç has also said that “As far as I can see, they prepared those ByLock lists according to their profiling lists in their hands, and told we have reduced this number to 102 thousand,” then he put question, “How did you remove 900,000 users?” In response to MİT’s statement arguing that some of those people have downloaded it several times,” Akkoç has added that “There is no such thing in our legal system.”

Akkoç has also told that MİT had asked three GSM operators and Information and Community Technologies Authority (BTK) at the same time, and created a list of 102 thousand people. “There is a very basic problem problem here,” said Akkoç and continued that “Because the number of lines and IP numbers of GSM operators in Turkey are not proportional. Turkcell can give 1 IP to 15 people on average, and Avea can give 1 IP to 18 people. Even though Turkcell and Vodafone can detect ‘sub IPs’ distributed among GSM customers, Avea cannot do this because of lack of this technology.” Referring to a letter to the court by Avea stating that it is unable to detect the sub IPs, Akkoç said that no one using Avea line should be listed among 102 thousand people.

“I have my clients on the list of 102 thousand people, and the prosecutor’s office has 45 thousand people on the 2nd ByLock list. Now if Avea cannot give sub IPs to its customers, how did MİT find 45 thousand Avea customers here? How did MİT detect a user that Avea was unable to do so? In this case, all of the lists of 102 people become fake and this list becomes legally controversial,” said lawyer Akkoç.

While Akkoç stated that Avea gave an IP to about 20 people, he also asks that how did MİT list their names? Akkoç has said that “There are three probabilities. In the first possibility, MİT had already prepared a profiling list, so when it saw that those people on the profiling list was also in IP list, it decided to add their names to ‘ByLock user list’. In the second possibility, MİT sorted out their IP list and made a ByLock list through checking that those people are opponent or not. And the third possibility is that if anybody reported that person as a ‘repentant’, MİT pulled that person out of the list of 20 people and made a Bylock list. Those letters coming to the court support this probability.”

Akkoç has also said that they did not raise any question to both of Google Play and Apple [App] Store based on a statement from the Chief Public Prosecutor of Ankara and reports of MİT. He also added that there is no scientific data that ByLock was used only by the members of Gülen movement by implying that it is actually a psychological operation aiming to create a public opinion to accuse the alleged members of the Gülen movement.

Speaking also of judicial proceeding on the ByLock cases, Akkoç has emphasized the fact that because a person invested a fair amount of money in a legal bank, sent his or her children to a private school, or become a member of a trade union, this citizen cannot be put on trial as these acts are not crimes according to the Turkish Penal Code.

“If the Supreme Court’s Criminal General Assembly approve a decision of a court of first instance by deciding that ‘just accessing a program’ is enough for being a member of terrorist organization, then all local courts may condemn 102 thousand people as members of a terrorist organization for 6 years and 3 months without questioning the ByLock lists. Because, as a court of first instance, 16th Penal Chamber of Court of Appeal sentenced judges Metin Özçelik and Mustafa Başer, who were first-class judges, said in its 147-page reasoning that  ‘accessing to the ByLock application is sufficient to be considered as a member of terrorist organization’,” said Akkoç.

Lawyer Akkoç has also drawn attention to another point that if the members of the Gülen movement starts to generally use WhatsApp, then will security officers start to consider WhatsApp as a ‘Gülenists’ program’? “Moreover, the crypto communication can sound fantastic, but WhatsApp is also a crypto messaging program. Similar applications based on the same logic exist, and in this respect ByLock does not have any extra feature,” said Akkoç.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey’s Justice Ministry announced on July 13 that 50,510 people have been arrested and 169,013 have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

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