April 20, 2019

Court in northern part of Cyprus urged to acquit two journalists of insulting Erdoğan

Şener Levent /AFP
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the acquittal of two newspaper journalists in Turkish-recognized northern part of Cyprus who are facing up to five years in prison if convicted of insulting and defaming Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Şener Levent, the editor of the north Nicosia-based daily Afrika, and Ali Osman Tabak, one of his journalists, are being tried for publishing a cartoon showing a Greek statue urinating on Erdoğan’s head. It was posted on social networks before being printed in the newspaper.

They are charged with defaming and insulting a foreign leader and “inciting hatred against a foreign leader with the aim of spoiling the friendly and peaceful relations between the two countries.” Final arguments are due to be presented in court on 22 April.

 “We urge the court to acquit Şener Levent and Ali Osman Tabak because convicting these two journalists would be a grave error and would send an extremely negative signal to the media in the northern part of Cyprus,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s European Union and Balkan desk.

At a time when Ankara is maintaining an enormous amount of pressure on the Turkish media and the Turkish Cypriot media are being harassed more and more, there is an urgent need for the northern part of Cyprus to assert its journalistic independence vis-à-vis its Turkish neighbour.”

 Pressure has been growing on journalists with regards their coverage of Turkey and its policies towards Cyprus lately. Some have received “warnings” from Turkish officials and some censor themselves because they fear a crackdown on the media similar to what has happened in Turkey. Hundreds of demonstrators obeying Erdoğan’s call, stormed the headquarters of the newspaper Afrika in January 2018, in protest against an article critical of Turkey’s offensive against a Kurdish militia in Afrin, in northwestern Syria. By referring to the offensive as a “second occupation by Turkey,” the article implied that the Turkish presence in Cyprus was the first “occupation,” which constitutes an insult or defamation in Ankara’s eyes.

 Northern Cyprus is ranked 74th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.