New report examines systemic rights violations in ByLock prosecutions


A new report released on Wednesday by the London-based human rights organization Statewatch reveals systemic human rights violations by Turkish authorities in their prosecutions of people for Gülen movement membership over the use of the ByLock smartphone application, Turkish Minute reported.

ByLock, once widely available online, has been considered a secret tool of communication among supporters of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group outlawed by Ankara, since a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, despite the lack of any evidence that ByLock messages were related to the abortive putsch.

The Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, 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.

In a landmark ruling in September, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) concluded that Turkey’s ByLock-related rights violations were systemic in nature.

The new report, authored by Dr. Emre Turkut and Brussels-based lawyer Ali Yıldız, analyzes the ECtHR’s decision and provides recommendations for Turkish authorities. Key among these recommendations is the need to reconsider ByLock evidence, address flaws in handling digital evidence and restore the independence of the Turkish judiciary.

The report also investigates an official analysis of ByLock data by Turkish authorities and uncovers numerous discrepancies in the records.

The report points to problems such as messages being sent without users being logged in and chronologically nonsensical log data, such as logging in or out when they already were logged in or out.

These anomalies point to fundamental flaws in the methods of data collection and processing and cast doubt on the reliability of ByLock use as evidence in criminal proceedings, according to the report.

The reliance on digital evidence such as encrypted messages in criminal cases is increasing worldwide. The report highlights the importance of ensuring that the use of such evidence adheres to the right to a fair trial and human rights standards.

“Our findings underscore the urgent need for reforms in the Turkish judicial system to ensure fair trial rights and uphold human rights standards,” Dr. Turkut, co-author of the report, said.

The report also raises concerns about the integrity of ByLock data extracted by Turkish authorities, highlighting the use of unofficial recovery tools and the lack of a standardized forensic procedure.

Experts question the reliability of the data as there is a lack of detailed documentation on the seizure, extraction and analysis of the digital evidence. This lack of transparency casts doubt on the accuracy of the ByLock evidence.

“This report … provides a valuable analysis of the Court’s position on digital evidence in criminal proceedings – a position that is invaluable for those facing wrongful conviction in Turkey, but relevant in many other countries across Europe,” Chris Jones, Statewatch director, said.

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