Former university rector facing 15 years in prison for recruiting ByLock users

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A former university rector, standing trial on charges of membership in a terrorist organization due to his alleged links to the Gülen movement, is facing 15 years in prison for hiring users of the ByLock smart phone application, the Kronos news website reported on Monday.

The latest hearing in the trial of Professor Süleyman Büyükberber, the former rector of the Ankara-based Gazi University, who is not under pre-trial detention, was held at the Ankara 28th High Criminal Court on Monday.

The prosecutor, who presented his office’s opinion at Monday’s hearing, said the rector was fired due to his alleged links to the Gülen movement in the aftermath of a coup attempt in July 2016, adding that he recruited 190 people affiliated with the movement for various positions at the university and that 95 of them were ByLock users, supporting his claims with witness statements.

Turkey considers ByLock, once widely available online, a secret tool of communication among supporters of the faith-based Gülen movement since the coup attempt on July 15, 2016 despite the lack of any evidence that ByLock messages were related to the abortive putsch, leading to the arrest of thousands who were using it.

The Gülen movement is accused by the government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of masterminding the failed coup and is labeled a “terrorist organization,” although the movement denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

The prosecutor said all the elements of the crime of membership in a terrorist organization, as defined in the 314th Article of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), were present; hence, the rector should be handed down a prison sentence ranging from seven-and-half years to 15 years.

Büyükberber, who was appointed rector of Gazi University in 2012, was arrested as part of a post-coup crackdown on Aug. 17, 2016 over alleged links to the Gülen movement. He was released after a period of pre-trial detention.

The court adjourned the trial to March 16, 2022.

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