Questions linger over Turkey’s arrest of man behind ByLock


Turkish state media reported Wednesday that a Turkish-American holding the copyright to ByLock, an encrypted messaging app banned by Turkey, was arrested in June after surrendering to Turkish authorities, sparking questions as to why his arrest was in the news more than a month after the fact and why he decided to turn himself in, Turkish Minute reported.

Alpaslan Demir, who took the name David Keynes after acquiring US citizenship, was put in jail after appearing court on June 9, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported, citing an official.

Turkey considers ByLock, once widely available online, a secret tool of communication among supporters of the faith-based Gülen movement since a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 despite the lack of any evidence that ByLock messages were related to the abortive putsch, leading to the arrest of thousands who were using it.

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.

According to a statement from the interior ministry in March 2019, 95,310 people were charged over alleged use of the ByLock application. In its technical report, which courts use as basis for their decisions, the Turkish intelligence agency stated that 60,473 defendants had at least one message posted using ByLock while 34,837 defendants had not posted any message using the application.

It was not clear why state media reported Keynes’s arrest more than a month after his arrival in Turkey or why he decided to turn himself in.

Anadolu said he was put in pre-trial detention and charged with terror-related offenses that could see him jailed for up to 15 years. Keynes turned himself in to the police under a “repentance law” that grants more lenient treatment to people who confess to crimes, according to Anadolu.

Anadolu’s Turkish service reported that an arrest warrant was issued for Keynes on December 17, 2020, nearly four-and-a-half years after the coup attempt took place.

According to many, the timing of the arrest warrant also comes with questions as Ankara’s crackdown on users of the app started in 2016, while Keynes was only sought in December 2020.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled last week in the case of a former police officer that use of the ByLock application is not an offense in itself and does not constitute sufficient evidence for arrest. The Strasbourg court’s ruling has come as a source of hope for thousands of people who were arrested or sentenced on terrorism charges based mainly on a National Intelligence Organization (MİT) report that detailed users of ByLock.

In former police officer Tekin Akgün’s case, the ECtHR ruled 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, who was put in pre-trial detention in October 2016 as part of a massive crackdown launched by Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government on alleged and real followers of the Gülen movement.

“In the absence of other evidence or information, the document in question, stating merely that the applicant was a user of ByLock, could not, in itself, indicate that there were reasonable suspicions that could satisfy an objective observer that he indeed used ByLock in a manner that could amount to the alleged offences,” said the court.

The UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also stated in October 2018 that detention, arrest and conviction based on ByLock use in Turkey violated of Articles 19, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

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