Turkish gov’t issues detention warrants for 323 people over links to Gülen movement on early Tuesday

Detention warrants have been issued by Ankara Chief Prosecutor’s Office for 142 people who used to work or still work for Turkish Education Ministry and the Ministry of Youth and Sport on Tuesday over their alleged links to Gülen movement basing on their alleged use of mobile phone messaging application ByLock.

It was reported that 116 out of 121 personnel of Education Ministry were previously dismissed from their duties by Turkish government under the rule of emergency declared in the aftermath of a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Remaining 21 people were reported as personnel of the Ministry of Youth and Sport who were dismissed by the government in the same way. Police have started raids to addresses of these people in 8 provinces in early Tuesday.

Meanwhile, İstanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office has also issued detention warrants for 112 people who used to work or still work for 18 district municipalities and metropolitan municipality in İstanbul province over their alleged use of ByLock on Tuesday. Following the detention warrants, it was reported that 35 people were detained during police operations conducted in 8 provinces.

Also in an Antalya-based investigation, as part of Turkish government’s massive post-coup witch hunt campaign targeting the alleged followers of the Gülen movement, 44 people were detained by police on Tuesday in 6 provinces of Turkey over their alleged use of ByLock. Following the detention warrants for 57 people police have started operations in Antalya, Isparta, Afyonkarahisar, Manisa, Bursa and Trabzon provinces.

At least seven people including the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Aksaray municipal council member, Hümeyra Gür, has been put detained over alleged links to the Gülen movement. Gül and other detainees are accused of using ByLock.

In an Adıyaman-based investigation targeting alleged members of the Gülen movement on Tuesday, 4 police officers, who were dismissed by a government decree under the rule of emergency, were detained in Adıyaman, Osmaniye, Kahramanmaraş and Elazığ provinces over their alleged use of ByLock.

Soner Özer, who was former governor of Sinop province’s Dikmen district, was detained on Tuesday in an investigation carried out by Samsun Chief Prosecutor’s Office targeting the alleged followers of the Gülen movement. It was claimed Özer, who was dismissed by a government decree under the rule of emergency, has alleged used ByLock.

Turkish authorities believe that ByLock is a communication tool among followers of the Gülen movement. Tens of thousands of people, including civil servants, police officers, soldiers, businessmen and housemakers, have either been dismissed or arrested for using ByLock since the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

The Supreme Court of Appeals’ Assembly of Criminal Chambers ruled on last month that the ByLock smart phone application is to be considered evidence of membership in a terrorist organization following Turkish Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül’s remarks on ByLock being strong evidence of terrorist organization membership.

A recent legal opinion published in London last month found that tens of thousands of Turkish citizens detained or dismissed from their jobs on the basis of downloading ByLock have had their human rights violated.

The Guardian reported on a study commissioned by opponents of Turkish President Erdoğan and conducted by a pair of 2 Bedford Row attorneys which argues that the arrest of 75,000 suspects primarily because they downloaded the ByLock app was arbitrary and illegal.

According to the report by Guardian legal affairs correspondent Owen Bowcott, the legal opinion was commissioned by a pro-Gülen organization based in Europe. The two experienced British barristers, William Clegg QC and Simon Baker, drafted the opinion.

“The evidence that the [ByLock] app was used exclusively by those who were members or supporters of the Gülen movement [is] utterly unconvincing and unsupported by any evidence,” the two barristers said, according to the Guardian.

“There is a great deal of evidence … which demonstrates that the app was widely available and used in many different countries, some of which had no links to Turkey.”

The detention of people on this basis is “arbitrary and in breach of article 5” of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which guarantees the right to liberty, the report says.

The report examines transcripts of recent trials of Gülen followers in Turkey as well as Turkish intelligence reports on ByLock. It concludes that the cases presented so far violate the ECHR, to which Turkey is a party.

Most recently, Dutch cyber security firm Fox-IT, known for providing cyber security solutions to governments, said on Sept. 13 that it had debunked a report by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) on the ByLock smartphone application as it discovered inconsistencies and manipulations.

In a statement on it website, Fox-IT said the quality of the MİT report on ByLock is very low, especially when weighed against the legal consequences of the report, which is the basis of detention for 75,000 Turkish citizens, mainly sympathizers of the Gülen movement.

President Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government launched an all-out war against the Gülen movement following a Dec.17-25, 2013 corruption investigation that included ministers and Erdoğan’s family. It turned into a witch-hunt following a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

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 President 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. Turkish government has also suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants after the coup attempt.

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