Interview with ByLock author invalidates government coup arguments

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An interview conducted by Hürriyet daily journalist İsmail Saymaz with the author of a mobile phone application known as ByLock, which has led to the arrest of thousands of people in Turkey on coup charges, has seemed to invalidate the main argument of the government that the coup plotters used this application among themselves, according to a news analysis on the TR724 news portal on Monday.

On Monday the Hürriyet daily ran an interview Saymaz had with David Keynes, the owner of ByLock, in New York. According to the interview, contrary to the government’s insistent claim that the coup was plotted through encrypted messages on ByLock, the application has been inactive since the end of 2015, long before the coup attempt of July 15.

In the interview Keynes, who acquired American citizenship and changed his name with inspiration from British economist John Maynard Keynes, told Hürriyet that his Gülen-linked former flatmate, nicknamed “Fox” and currently living in Turkey, developed ByLock before using Keynes’ credit card to publish it on Apple’s App Store three years ago.

The government has long argued that this program was created by the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) and was accessible only with a password that the Gülen movement provided to its followers, although it was written in the US and was available for everyone in the app store.

However, before this interview was published, another Hürriyet report under the byline of Murat Yetkin argued that encrypted coup plotting messages on ByLock were detected by the National Intelligence Organization (MİT). Following this Hürriyet story, scores of people were arrested simply for having ByLock on their smart phones. Although Yetkin, the editor-in-chief of the Hürriyet Daily News, argued that 18 million messages were revealed, not a single court was able to present any secret messaging.

According to Turkish prosecutors, ByLock is the top communication tool among members of the faith-based Gülen movement, accused by the government of masterminding a coup attempt on July 15. Critics, however, have blasted the government for detaining thousands simply for using a mobile application.

Tens of thousands of civil servants have either been dismissed or arrested for using the application. Critics say the use of a technological application is not a criminal activity nor is it evidence of membership in a terrorist organization.

Keynes said he travelled to Turkey at least twice every year and that he was even in the country on July 15. Considering that head of MİT Hakan Fidan set the identification of ByLock users as his number one goal, the fact that Keynes has not faced any legal action although he has been in Turkey numerous times is suspicious.

The last time Keynes left Turkey was Aug. 7, according to the interview.
Media reports claim that MİT has been aware of the use of ByLock and has been monitoring its users since 2014.

Keynes said although his name appears as the owner of ByLock in the Apple Store, neither MİT nor any other state authority has contacted him.

Keynes said his former flat mate nicknamed “Fox” also entered and exited Turkey before and after the July 15 coup attempt.

The man said his relationship with the Gülen movement dates back to his high school years in Ankara, where he spent his childhood. In the interview Keynes said he attended a Gülen-affiliated FEM university preparation course in Ankara and stayed in a Gülen-linked student house.

However, Gülen-affiliated university preparation courses in Ankara are named Maltepe, not FEM, and the Gülen movement has residences only for university students. The movement used to run dormitories for high school students that were closed down by the government in the aftermath of the coup attempt.

Keynes said in the interview that ByLock was also used by people in Iran and Saudi Arabia; however, the Gülen movement is known not to have any schools, and therefore followers, in these countries, which are known for their dislike of the movement.

Although pro-government media circles claim that ByLock spread among followers of the Gülen movement through memory cards or via Bluetooth, it was possible to download the app from the Apple Store and Google Play. It has been downloaded by 600,000 people to date.

Since ByLock usage has served as a way to profile real and perceived Gülen sympathizers, some people have directed attention to a deliberate attempt to promote this software among them. An executive with a Justice and Development Party (AKP) polling company, MAK, Mehmet Ali Kulat, recently tweeted that ByLock could actually be a trap for “hunting down Gülen sympathizers¨ as he called them stupid enough to fall into such a trap.

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