The Turkish police carried out a new wave of arrests this morning under a combined warrant issued today for 35 journalists and media workers suspected of installing the encrypted messaging app ByLock on their smartphones.
The authorities are now treating installation of this app as proof of membership of the movement led by the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, which is accused of masterminding the July 2016 coup attempt.
Turkey’s Court of Cassation nonetheless ruled on 16 June that “use of [ByLock] would constitute incontestably incriminating evidence in the event that it was technically and indisputably established that communication took place at the behest of the [Gülen] organization and with the aim of exchanging secret messages.”
In practice, the judicial authorities tend to criminalize any link with ByLock users, as they have in the case of Cumhuriyet columnist Kadri Gürsel.
“Lumping together all ByLock users and anyone who contacts them as criminals is totally illegal,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “The judicial authorities cannot accuse journalists on the basis of this app alone, without establishing a specific and individual link to criminal activities.”
Nine journalists and media workers have so far been arrested under this warrant. They include Burak Ekici, the editor of the online edition of the left-wing newspaper BirGün.
They also include Muhsin Pilgir of Cihan (and formerly Zaman), Ömer Faruk Aydemir of IHA, Sait Gürkan Tuzlu, Cüneyt Seza Özkan (formerly of Samanyolu), Yusuf Duran, Ahmet Feyzullah Özyurt, Mutlu Özay and Ahmet Sağırlı (who was fired last week from the weekly Türkiye).
Ranked 155th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index, Turkey is the world’s biggest prison for professional journalists, with more than 100 currently detained.