Police teams conducted raids on 26 locations on Friday morning in an effort to detain 37 people due to their alleged use of the ByLock, a smartphone application, considered by the Turkish government to be evidence of membership in the Gülen movement, Turkish Minute reported.
The raids were conducted across eight cities as part of an İstanbul-based operation overseen by the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. The 37 people are accused of using ByLock.
ByLock is an encrypted messaging app used on smartphones and was available on Apple’s App Store and Google Play. Turkish authorities claim that ByLock was a communication tool exclusively used by members of the Gülen movement, a faith based group inspired by US based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, to ensure the privacy of their conversations.
Eleven of the people facing detention over ByLock use were reportedly abroad. It was not clear how many of the people were taken into police custody.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement 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. Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.
According to a statement from Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on November 26, a total of 292,000 people have been detained while 96,000 others have been jailed due to alleged links to the Gülen movement since the failed coup. The minister said there are currently 25,655 people in Turkey’s prisons who were jailed due to links to the Gülen movement.
In different opinions, the UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) stated that arrest and conviction based on ByLock use in Turkey violated Articles 19, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In an opinion WGAD noted that “no explanation has been provided [by the Turkish government] as to how the alleged use of this application … could be equated with a criminal act.”