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ByLock was used as pretext to arrest critics of Erdoğan gov’t, ex-MP claims

A former Turkish lawmaker has claimed that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government arrested its critics under the pretext of alleged use of the ByLock mobile phone application, even those who never had the app on their phones, in the aftermath of a 2016 coup attempt, local media reported on Thursday.

Hüseyin Aygün, a lawyer and former MP from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), on Thursday said in a series of tweets that two jailed police officers told him, soon after the July 15, 2016 attempted coup, that they had added the AKP critics’ names to the list of people to be arrested over ByLock use.

“Every morning, we were receiving ‘ByLock lists.’ We were organizing and then sending them to the prosecutor’s office and other offices. We then started to receive another list of names to be added to the ‘ByLock lists’ and we did it. … Those people didn’t use ByLock but were wanted [by the gov’t] to be arrested,” Aygün quoted the policemen as saying.

The former MP added that the officers he talked to in Sincan Prison in Ankara were also arrested soon after they had seen their names on the additional list of people to be added to the list of those to be arrested over ByLock use.

“From the very beginning, ByLock was dubious as ‘evidence.’ Thousands of people were arrested, fired from their jobs and had their families torn apart due to reports … by these two police officers. The main purpose was ‘to purge those who oppose the government and establish a new regime.’ Didn’t the July 15 coup also serve this purpose?”Aygün said.

A year after the abortive putsch, the executive-style presidential system was adopted in Turkey in a referendum, following which Erdoğan was re-elected president in June 2018. The new system gives extraordinary powers to the president while weakening parliament and eliminating the post of prime minister.

Immediately after the July 15 coup attempt, Erdoğan and his government pinned the blame on the Gülen movement, inspired by the ideas and activism of Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen, labeling the group as a terrorist organization. The president then initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

ByLock, once widely available online, has been considered a secret tool of communication among supporters of the movement since the coup attempt despite the lack of any evidence that ByLock messages were related to the abortive putsch.

Aygün’s claims come after a decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) made public on Tuesday, which faulted Turkey over the pre-trial detention of Tekin Akgün, a former police officer, in October 2016, due to his alleged use of ByLock.

Ruling that Turkey violated Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security) of the European Convention on Human Rights as well as Article 5 § 3 (entitlement to trial within a reasonable time or to release pending trial) and Article 5 § 4 (right to a speedy decision on the lawfulness of detention) in the pre-trial detention of Akgün, the European court ordered Turkey to pay the former officer 12,000 euros in non-pecuniary damages and an additional 1,000 euros for costs and expenses.

The UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention stated in October 2018 that detention, arrest and conviction based on ByLock use in Turkey violated Articles 19, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

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