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Detention warrants issued for 35 journalists over ByLock use

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Detention warrants have been issued for 35 journalists over the use of a smart phone application known as ByLock, the Cumhuriyet daily reported on Thursday.

According to the report, as part of an investigation run by the İstanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office, Turkish police launched operations against suspects on Thursday morning and detained nine journalists, who are accused of membership in the faith-based Gülen movement due to using the ByLock app.

The editor of the Birgün daily, Burak Ekici, announced on social media that he had been detained by the police, who seized his mobile phone and laptop. Other detained journalists are Muhsin Pilgir (reporter for the closed Zaman daily and Cihan news agency), Ömer Faruk Aydemir (regional director of the İhlas news agency), Sait Gürkan Tuzlu (reporter for Cihan), Cüneyt Seza Özkan (production manager for the closed Samanyolu TV station), Yusuf Duran, Ahmet Feyzullah Özyurt Ahmet Sağırlı (former columnist for the Türkiye daily) and Mutlu Özay (reporter for Cihan).

Turkish authorities believe using ByLock is a sign of being a member of the Gülen movement, which the government accuses of masterminding a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016. The mobile phone application ByLock is seen as the top communication tool among members of the group.

Tens of thousands of civil servants, police officers and businessmen have either been dismissed or arrested for using ByLock since the failed coup attempt.

Turkey is ranked 155th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2017 World Press Freedom Index. The situation of media in Turkey has become critical under the state of emergency proclaimed after the coup attempt.

According to the Turkey Purge website, based on information compiled from PEN International, the Platform for Independent Journalism (P24), the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), the Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS) and the Progressive Journalists Association (ÇGD), 274 journalists were jailed in Turkey following a failed coup last year. While 163 of them are still in pretrial detention, the others were released pending trial or were cleared of charges.

Turkey’s Contemporary Journalists’ Association (ÇGD) recently announced that more than 900 press cards were cancelled.

Turkey survived a military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people and wounded more than a thousand others. Immediately after the putsch the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Tayyip 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.

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