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Turkish minister indicates purges to continue with ByLock users

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The Turkish government’s witch-hunt against dissidents is continuing as Labor and Social Security Minister Mehmet Müezzinoğlu told reporters in Bursa on Tuesday that the Turkish intelligence agency has determined the identity of nearly half the 180,000 users of ByLock, a smartphone messaging application that the Justice and Development (AKP) government claims plotters of the July 15 coup attempt used for communicating.

There might be some victimization [of people not involved in any crime]. However, we have to take precautions by identifying the second half [of ByLock users] in order to prevent future ‘earthquakes’ [coup attempts],” Müezzinoğlu said.

On Aug. 23, Turkish police arrested 24 teachers whose only “crime” was to be using ByLock, what Turkish prosecutors call the “top communication tool” among members of the Gülen movement, a civil society movement inspired by the views of US-based Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who the AKP government accuses of masterminding the coup attempt.

Pro-government media also reported in August that the Interior Ministry had prepared a list of dismissals that includes police officers of various ranks for using the ByLock app. According to the reports, the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) had drawn up a list of 53,000 ByLock users at that time.

Despite Turkish government claims that ByLock was a secret encrypted communication app among coup plotters, a Reuters story on Aug. 3 suggested that it appeared to be the work of amateur software developers and had left important information about its users unencrypted, according to security experts.

Tim Strazzere, director of mobile research at U.S.-Israeli security firm SentinelOne, told Reuters that ByLock is an unsecure messaging application that is not widely used today and that anyone who wanted to reverse engineer the app could do so in minutes. Reuters also noted that Turkish officials’ claim that “ByLock may have been created by the Gülenists themselves so they could communicate” has not been verified by experts.

Transcripts published by the Turkish media show putschist officers coordinating troop movements in WhatsApp chat groups during the coup attempt on July 15.

However, same pro-government media continue to brand those individuals detained or arrested for using ByLock on their phones as part of a clandestine network that supported the failed coup.

Despite the fact that Gülen himself and the people who have been detained on allegations of being a sympathizer of the Gülen movement have denied the accusation of masterminding the coup attempt, over 100,000 state employees have been purged from the bureaucracy, nearly 43,000 have been detained and 23,500 arrested, including journalists, judges, prosecutors, police and military officers, academics and governors.

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