More and more people in Turkey are being arrested for communicating via the app "ByLock". What is behind it?
"Cumhuriyet" authors stand trial Photo: ap
The most common charge in arrests related to last year’s coup attempt in Turkey is the use of the messenger app ByLock. The recent trial of journalists from the daily Cumhuriyet shows how this accusation has become a tool of the government. For example, Cumhuriyet writer Kadri Gursel is on trial for "contacting people who used ByLock." But why is the use of the news app being prosecuted as a crime?
From the perspective of the Turkish intelligence service (MIT), the app, which was hardly known before the coup attempt, is mainly used by members of the Gulen movement.ByLock enables encrypted communication.
The news service was first available as an app via Google Play and Apple Store in 2014. According to MIT, the app has since been downloaded by 600,000 users, mostly in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The app’s license holder is David Keynes, a U.S. citizen of Turkish origin. Keynes told Hurriyet in 2016 that the software was developed by a Gulenist under a pseudonym and was originally intended to be sold in Silicon Valley. However, he said, the software was gradually used for everyday communication among Gulenists, such as sending prayers.
Journalist İsmail Saymaz, who had interviewed Keynes for Hurriyet, was investigated for "trivializing and whitewashing" the "terror software" after the article appeared.
Questionable circumstantial evidence
Fatih Yagmur’s name also appears on various, not always congruent, lists of the intelligence service, which became the subject of various news reports as the "list of ByLock users". Yagmur, a former editor of the Radikal newspaper, hit the headlines for this after the coup attempt. He recently admitted to using the ByLock.
"For court reporters, prosecutors, judges, lawyers and security people are important sources," Yagmur told taz.gazete. "As ordinary communication channels are intercepted, one uses the encryption software deemed useful by the source. Before ByLock, I used services like Skype, Viber or Line."
Yagmur does not want to have known that this could be dubious software. Several journalists who now work for pro-government media recommended that he use the software at the time.
How dangerous the hunt for terrorists under the accusation of ByLock use can be is shown by individual cases that have been reported in the press in recent weeks. In Aksaray, an elderly lady was arrested while shopping at the weekly market. It turned out that her son’s wife had downloaded the software onto her mother-in-law’s phone.