- The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the rights of a Turkish teacher convicted of terrorist offenses were violated due to heavy reliance on data related to the use of a phone app.
- The Turkish government had presented the use of the encrypted messaging app ByLock as evidence of criminal activity in these cases.
- Yuksel Yalcinkaya was convicted in March 2017 of being a member of a terrorist organization and sentenced to more than six years in prison.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday that the rights of a Turkish teacher convicted of terror offenses were violated because the case relied heavily on the use of a phone app.
The court said its ruling could apply to thousands of people convicted after an attempted coup in Turkey in 2016, after the prosecution presented the use of the encrypted messaging app ByLock as evidence of the crime.
Ankara has blamed the coup on followers of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey has listed the Gulen movement as a terrorist organization known as FETO. Gulen denies any involvement in the failed coup.
Yuksel Yalcinkaya was among the tens of thousands arrested after the July 2016 coup attempt, in which 251 people were killed as pro-coup military elements fired into crowds and bombed government buildings. Around 35 people allegedly involved in the plot were also killed.
Yalcinkaya, from Kayseri province in central Anatolia, was convicted of participating in a terrorist organization in March 2017 and sentenced to more than six years in prison.
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The European court ruled that the “decisive evidence” for his conviction was the alleged use of ByLock, which is said to have been used exclusively by Gülen supporters.
In its ruling, the court ruled that the case had violated the European Convention on Human Rights, namely the right to a fair trial, the right to freedom of assembly and association, and the right not to be punished without law.
In a statement, the court said that “such a uniform and blanket approach by Turkish justice to ByLock evidence deviated from the requirements set out in domestic law” and violated “the convention’s safeguards against arbitrary prosecution, conviction and punishment.”
He added: “There are currently around 8,500 applications on the court’s docket involving similar complaints … and, given that authorities have identified around 100,000 ByLock users, many more may be filed.”
The court also called on Turkey to address “systemic problems, in particular regarding the approach of Turkish justice to ByLock data.”
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Responding to the ruling, Turkish Justice Minister Yilmaz Tudz said it was “unacceptable for the ECHR to exceed its powers and issue a verdict of violation by examining the evidence in a case in which our judicial authorities at all levels … judge that the evidence is sufficient”.
He also protested the court’s admission of Yalcinkaya’s legal representative, who said he was subject to arrest warrants for involvement in FETO.
Turkey was ordered to pay $15,880 in costs and expenses.