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Turkey detains 9 over Gülen links after names emerge in ByLock messages

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Nine people, including a lawyer and current and former police officers, have been detained in İstanbul and Ankara for alleged links to the Gülen movement, a faith-based group outlawed by Ankara, because their names appeared in text messages on the ByLock smartphone application, Turkish Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya announced on Saturday.

ByLock, once widely available online, has been considered a secret tool of communication among supporters of the faith-based Gülen movement since a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, despite the lack of any evidence that ByLock messages were related to the abortive putsch.

The Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen is accused by the Turkish 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.

According to Yerlikaya, Turkish police carried out operations against individuals linked to the Gülen movement in both İstanbul and Ankara. Among those arrested are a former police chief who was fired after the coup as well as one lawyer and five police officers.

Turkish Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya reiterated the government’s “unwavering determination” to continue the fight against the Gülen movement.

President Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of Dec. 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-prime minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following the abortive putsch in 2016.

The detentions come despite a landmark ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) last week that found the use of ByLock not to constitute a reliable piece of evidence or a criminal offense.

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