Unveiling Human Rights Violations: The Targeting of Gülen Movement Followers in Turkey

Sümeyye Tercanoğlu

By Anna Moneta

In October 2023, Sümeyye Tercanoğlu and her husband, a Turkish Gulen teacher, faced conviction for suspected affiliation with the Gulen movement. The allegations centred around their purported use of ByLock, a phone application believed by the government to be a platform for Gulen movement supporters engaging in secret communication since the failed coup attempt in 2016. It’s essential to note that no concrete evidence supports these allegations. The Gulen movement, led by an influential Islamic cleric, aims to provide devout Muslims with the necessary secular education for success in contemporary society while also emphasizing the importance of traditional religious teachings. The movement promotes a tolerant form of Islam, highlighting values such as altruism, modesty, hard work, and education (Pew Research Center, 2010). The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been actively targeting followers of the Gülen movement since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013. The government’s actions against the Gülen movement have raised concerns about human rights violations and the erosion of democratic principles.

taken from https://polatlipostasicom.teimg.com/crop/1280×720/polatlipostasi-com/uploads/2023/10/zarif-sumeyye-tercanoglu-neden-tutuklandi.png

Upon Sümeyye Tercanoğlu’s arrest, a deeply distressing situation unfolded. She was separated from her 4-month-old child, who, since the day of the arrest, had not been breastfed and lacked access to his mother’s breast milk—crucial for his healthy growth. Legislator Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, known for his human rights advocacy and affiliation with the Green Left Party (YSP), raised concerns about the plight of pregnant women or mothers with infants, asserting that such separations occur on a near-daily basis. He specifically called for the release of Sümeyye Tercanoğlu, shedding light on the human rights implications of these incidents.

Simultaneously, the European Court of Human Rights issued a significant judgment in the case of Yüksel Yalçınkaya v. Türkiye, holding violations of Article 7 (no punishment without law), Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial), and Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Much like the case of Sümeyye Tercanoğlu, Mr. Yalçınkaya’s conviction was significantly based on the use of the encrypted messaging application ByLock.

The judgment underscored that the Turkish judiciary’s uniform and global approach to ByLock evidence did not comply with national law or the object and purpose of Article 7, designed to safeguard against arbitrary prosecution, conviction, and punishment. Procedural shortcomings in criminal proceedings, specifically regarding access to and compelling challenge of ByLock evidence, were also noted, breaching the right to a fair trial under Article 6. This systemic problem has broader implications, with approximately 8,500 applications on the Court’s docket involving similar complaints under Articles 7 and/or 6 of the Convention. Under Article 46, the ECHR mandated that Turkey implement general measures to address these systemic problems, particularly concerning the Turkish judiciary’s approach to ByLock evidence. This underscores the urgent need for Turkey to address the human rights violations associated with convictions based on ByLock usage.


Liu, J. (2010) Gülen movement, Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project. https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2010/09/15/muslim-networks-and-movements-in-western-europe-gulen-movement/. Last visited November 13th 2023.

European Court of Human Rights. (2023) Judgment concerning Türkiye, ECHR. Available at: https://www.echr.coe.int/w/grand-chamber-judgment-concerning-turkiye. Last visited November 13th 2023.

Yüksel Yalçinkaya v. Türkiye. (2023). European Court of Human Rights. https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/#{%22itemid%22:[%22001-227636%22]}. Last visited November 13th 2023.