New wave of journalist arrests in Turkey for 'bogus terrorism charges' over use of Bylock app

Police in Turkey have issued arrest warrants for 35 journalists and media workers alleged to have downloaded the encrypted messaging app Bylock.

Turkish authorities believe using the app is proof of membership of the Gulen movement, a terrorist organisation accused of masterminding the failed 2016 coup.

So far nine of the 35 people have been arrested, including Burak Ekici, the editor of the online edition of the left-wing newspaper BirGün.

The ongoing imprisonment of journalists in Turkey has again come under international criticism.

Committee to Protect Journalists coordinator Nina Ognianova said that “bogus terrorism charges have become the favoured method of silencing independent journalism in Turkey”.

Prosecutors in the latest case against Turkish journalists have requested a list of the alleged 53,000 users of the Bylock app in Turkey.

Turkish officials say Bylock was created by a supporter of Fethullah Gullen, a political enemy of President Erdogan, although the App’s creator remains unknown.

“Lumping together all ByLock users and anyone who contacts them as criminals is totally illegal,” said Johann Bihr, the head of Reporters Without Borders 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.”

A crackdown on opposition broadcasters began after a decree issued following the July 2016 failed military coup, as part of a widespread purge of those seen as Gulen sympathisers.

Yesterday, the pro-government daily newspaper Sabah reported that the Turkish government will soon begin to sell the assets and frequencies of around 18 closed broadcasters, with proceeds to go to the state.

Last month Press Gazette reported the start of the Cumhuriyet journalists’ trial in which 17 Turkish journalists have been accused of aiding a terrorist organisation.

French journalist Loup Bureau was jailed in Turkey last month for taking photographs of members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, which the government considers a branch of the alleged terrorist group the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, according to Radio France Internationale.

Turkey is currently the biggest jailer of professional journalists, with at least 100 in prison. It ranks 155 out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index. 

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