Turkey: warrants out for 35 people 'because they use encryption'

by Jane Whyatt

Turkish police have carried out early morning raids at the homes of 35 opponents of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.The reason: they use an encryption service called ByLock to protect their sources’ identity and keep their journalistic material confidential. Thirty-five warrants were issued. Nine journalists have been detained.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey Hunting down journalists: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Now President Erdoğan has decided that using ByLock is a sign of complicity with the Gülen movement and therefore connected to terrorism. Fethullah Gülen is a Turkish religious leader who lives in the USA. President Erdoğan blames Gülen for the alleged military coup attempt of July 2016.

The thirty-five arrest warrants were reported by the official Turkish news agency Andalu. Journalists who were taken into custody include: Burak Ekici, the online editor of “Birgun”, Muhsin Pilgir, Ömer Faruk Aydemir, Sait Gürkan, Cüneyt Seza Ozkan, Yusuf Duran, Ahmet Feyzullah, Ahmet Sağırlı and Mutlu Özay.

Fingerprint encryption

ByLock is a free app that uses the owner’s fingerprint instead of a password and promises: “Your privacy is our priority“. It is available on the open internet and offers free domestic and international calls, chat and messages.

This is not the first time that using an encryption service has been used by the Turkish authorities as a reason to detain media workers. In 2015, Mohammed Ismael Rasool of Vice News was arrested with two British colleagues who were freed after several days. Rasool, an Iraqi Kurd, was working as the translator and fixer on the Vice News crew. His colleague Jake Hanrahan started a petition to get him freed and answered viewers' questions in a live show dedicated to Rasool in which he explained that a reason given for his continued detention was his use of encryption. After 131 days in detention and a four-month campaign by ECPMF and the media freedom community, Rasool was freed.