A Turkish prosecutor is seeking a 15-year sentence for Semra Köse, the wife of former police chief Ömer Köse, who has been imprisoned since 2014 due to his role in graft probes in December 2013 that implicated high-level government officials.
Semra Köse will be tried by an Istanbul High Criminal Court, which has approved the indictment, on charges of terrorist organization membership due to her alleged use of the ByLock smart phone application.
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.
Her husband Ömer was one of the police officers who took part in a bribery and corruption investigation in connection with state-owned Halkbank that shook the country in December 2013. The probe implicated, among others, the family members of four cabinet ministers as well as the children of then-prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Despite the scandal resulting in the resignation of all the cabinet members, the investigation was dropped after prosecutors and police chiefs were removed from the case. Erdoğan, government officials and the pro-government media described the investigation as an attempt to overthrow the government.
Some of the claims that were part of the corruption investigations were later substantiated in New York federal court, where Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla was sentenced to 32 months for conspiring to violate US sanctions on Iran and other offenses.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled in June 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 came 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.
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.
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.
Since the coup attempt, followers of the Gülen movement have been subjected to a massive crackdown, with the Turkish government and pro-government media outlets demonizing its members.
In addition to the thousands who were jailed, scores of other Gülen movement followers had to flee Turkey to avoid the government crackdown.