Turkey May Have Wrongly Arrested 1,000 People Accused of Using Bylock App Linked to Failed Coup

Turkey may have arrested people erroneously accused of being behind a failed coup after they were re-directed unwittingly to a messaging app linked to the alleged coup plotters.

At least 265 people died in a failed attempt to overthrow the Turkish regime in July 2016. Ankara accused US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen and his followers of having orchestrated the failed coup. Gulen has denied any involvement.

Turkey has since cracked down on civil servants and people suspected of having links with Gulen. The country has so far identified 215,000 users of messaging app ByLock, which was believed to be used by Gulen supporters.

However, prosecutors said on December 27 they will review the cases of 11,480 people after discovering that they could have been directed to the ByLock app without their knowledge or consent. It is believed the people investigated were directed to ByLock after they downloaded a different app used for prayer, time and music.

"As a result of a detailed examination, it has been determined that 11,480 GSM number users with similar properties in terms of connection data parameters were unwittingly re-directed to ByLock IPs," the prosecutor's office said in a statement quoted by Reuters.

Ankara chief prosecutor Yuksel Kocaman said he would ask for nearly 1,000 people linked to the messaging app to be released unless there was other evidence against them.

He added there is an arrest warrant against the developer of the other app which re-directed users to ByLock.

Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan
Rights groups have criticized Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan for the country's crackdown on thousands of people following a failed coup attempt in July 2016. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

Post-coup attempt crackdown

An estimated 150,000 people have been fired, and more than 50,000 jailed following last year's failed coup, Reuters estimated.

Turkey has also cracked down on Gulen's followers, prompting condemnation by human rights groups.

Gulen is the leader of an Islamic religious and social movement known as the "Gulen movement", or "Hizmet".

The Gulen movement was originally on good terms with President Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), as both groups advocate a moderate version of Islam.

However, AKP later labelled Himzet as a terrorist organization and accused its members of trying to infiltrate the state to overthrow the government. Gulen has been leading Hizmet from the U.S., where he is in self-imposed exile.

Last August, Turkey submitted a request to the U.S. government to extradite Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania.

"The shockwaves of Turkey's post-coup attempt crackdown continue to devastate the lives of a vast number of people who have not only lost their jobs but have had their professional and families lives shattered," Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International's researcher on Turkey, said earlier this year.

"Tainted as 'terrorists' and stripped of their livelihoods, a large swathe of people in Turkey are no longer able to continue in their careers and have had alternative employment opportunities blocked."