[UPDATE] Court arrests 9 out of 11 journalists detained over ByLock use

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An İstanbul prosecutor ruled for the arrest of 9 out of 11 journalists who were detained on Aug. 10 as part of an investigation targeting people over the use of a smart phone application known as ByLock to court for arrest, accusing them of terrorist organization membership, Cumhuriyet reported on Wednesday.

The İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on Aug. 10 issued detention warrants for 35 journalists who are accused of membership in the faith-based Gülen movement due to using the ByLock app.

According to the court decision, Birgün editor Burak Ekici, former İhlas news agency news editor Ömer Faruk Aydemir, former Zaman reporter Muhsin Pilgir; former Cihan news agency reporter Sait Gürkan Tuzlu, former Samanyolu TV news editor Cüneyt Seza Özkan, former Cihan news agency reporter Mutlu Özay, Ahmet Feyzullah Özyurt, former news director of the Fenerbahçe TV Yasir Kaya and Mehmet Ali Ay were arrested.

Meanwhile, Vatan page editor Yusuf Duran and  former Türkiye columnist Ahmet Sağırlı released on probation.

The police are continuing operations to detain Abdülkadir Gümüşsoy, Ahmet Doğan, Bedrettin Uğur, Yakup Üstün, Selim Sırrı Bayer, Mustafa Gürlek, Emrah Kamil Ülker, Ertuğrul Erbaş, Hüdaverdi Yıldırım, Hülya Tekin, İbrahim Yekebaş, İrfan Galip Dumlu, İsmail Muhammet Sağıroğlu, Levent Özkökeli, Mahir Etyemez, Mesut Ertanç, Murat Keskin, Mustafa Kılıç, Osman Çalık, Sedat Gülmez, Serdar Bal, Aysun Yazıcı Kurumahmut, Hasan Hüseyin Koç and Emrah Direk.

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.

The 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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