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UK legal opinion says Turks detained for using ByLock ‘had human rights breached’

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A legal opinion published in London has found that tens of thousands of Turkish citizens detained or dismissed from their jobs on the basis of downloading ByLock, an encrypted messaging app that Turkish authorities believe was widely used as a communication device among followers of the faith-based Gülen movement, have had their human rights breached.

According to a report in the Guardian on Monday, a study commissioned by opponents of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and conducted by a pair of 2 Bedford Row attorneys, argues that the arrest of 75,000 suspects primarily because they downloaded the ByLock app is arbitrary and illegal.

Turkish authorities believe that ByLock was used by followers of the Gülen movement, which it accuses of masterminding a failed coup in Turkey last year.

According to the report by Guardian legal affairs correspondent Owen Bowcott, the legal opinion was commissioned by a pro-Gülen organization based in Europe. The two experienced British barristers, William Clegg QC and Simon Baker, drafted the opinion.

The evidence that the [ByLock] app was used exclusively by those who were members or supporters of the Gülen movement [is] utterly unconvincing and unsupported by any evidence,” the two barristers said, according to the Guardian. “There is a great deal of evidence … which demonstrates that the app was widely available and used in many different countries, some of which had no links to Turkey.”

The detention of people on this basis is “arbitrary and in breach of article 5” of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which guarantees the right to liberty, the report says.

The report examines transcripts of recent trials of Gülen followers in Turkey as well as Turkish intelligence reports on ByLock. It concludes that the cases presented so far breach the ECHR, to which Turkey is a party.

The opinion says ByLock was available to everyone, it had been downloaded around the world and was in the top 500 apps in 41 countries. Other “compelling evidence” is required to justify the mass arrests, it said.

In a separately commissioned report, Thomas Moore, a British computer forensics expert, says ByLock was available to download free of charge on Apple’s App Store and Google Play.

It was downloaded over 600,000 times between April 2014 and April 2016 by users all over the world,” Moore says. “It is, in my opinion, therefore nonsensical to suggest that its availability was restricted to a particular group of people.”

Moore draws attention to a report by the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT), the Turkish intelligence service that had gained access to ByLock communications. “There is no suggestion in the MİT report that downloads were restricted to a territory or jurisdiction.”

None of the cases tried in Turkey have yet been appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, but some are expected to reach Strasbourg eventually.

Those detained have included lawyers, civil servants, judges, army officers, journalists and authors.

Taner Kılıç, the head of Amnesty International in Turkey, was charged in June with membership in a terrorist organization and remanded into custody for using ByLock.

The Turkish Embassy in London did not respond to requests for comment on the legal opinion.

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