The App that Makes You a Terrorist

For The Boston Review:

In May 2017, Mustafa Yaman, a fifty-one-year-old lawyer in Istanbul, received a troubling phone call from a friend in the Turkish Ministry of Justice in Ankara. Prosecutors were preparing to bring terrorism charges against him, alleging he was part of a religious movement blamed for a bloody attempted coup the year before. The case, Yaman’s source said, was based on evidence that he had used a smartphone app called ByLock, a secure messaging program also allegedly used by the coup plotters. “Beware,” the source told Yaman. “Your phone number is on a list of ByLock users, and it’s going to be a problem.”

Nearly a year before that phone call, on July 15, 2016, Turkey had narrowly avoided what would have been its fourth military coup. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets and confronted soldiers with machine guns, tanks firing into crowds, and fighter jets dropping munitions on government installations. More than 250 civilians were killed. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s president, quickly blamed Fethullah Gülen, an exiled cleric living in the United States who has a large following among the country’s most educated and conservative, including military officers and civil servants. After the failed coup, Turkey’s fractured political landscape was united in its demand that Gülen and his followers, whom the government alleged were more of a secret cult than a religious movement, be punished. They were declared terrorists, and the country was put under a state of emergency.

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