Reporters Without Borders today voiced outrage at prosecutions begun on 3 and 4 November in the Turkish part of Cyprus against five journalists for allegedly insulting the army in reports about violence by police (who are part of the army) against demonstrators calling for a referendum on reunification of the island.
The journalists face sentences of 10 to 44 years in prison. Under the existing law, they should be placed in custody for the duration of their trials, for which no dates have yet been set. Sources linked to the police have said other journalists could be prosecuted.
"We are outraged at the idea that journalists could be sentenced to so many years in prison just for doing their job," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to leader of the Turkish-Cypriot community, Rauf Denktash, and Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gül. Only Turkey recognises the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), as it calls the northern part of the island.
Ménard said the prosecutions were "extremely serious" press freedom violations. He said they violated both European standards and those of the United Nations, which maintains that no press offence should be punishable by imprisonment.
He warned that if the charges were not completely dropped, the TRNC would be entering a new phase in the repression of independent news media, one fraught with consequences. He stressed that Reporters Without Borders expected a reply to its letter, which it was copying to the European Union and to NATO.
The targeted newspaper reports were about the use of violence against a demonstration in the village of Doganci on 25 March calling for a symbolic referendum after the collapse of a UN plan for the island's reunification.
Military prosecutors launched a prosecution on 3 November against Basharan Duzgun, editor and editorialist with the daily Kibris and a correspondent for Agence France-Presse, requesting a prison sentence of 10 years. In an editorial headlined "Whose guarantors?" on 27 March, Duzgun criticised the methods used by the police and questioned the effectiveness of Greece, Turkey and Britain, which were declared the "guarantors" of Cyprus's independence in 1960.
Hasan Hasturer, another Kibris editorialist, is being prosecuted in a civil court since 3 November for "inciting hate towards the state with the intention of destroying it and debasing it," and "insulting and inciting hate for Turkey's senior officers" in a 26 March editorial headlined "Democracy with truncheons in Doganci." He faces 11 years in prison.
Both the military prosecutor's office and a civilian court initiated prosecutions on 4 November against Kibris editor in chief Suleyman Erguclu for publishing these columns. He faces 21 years in prison.
A prosecution was also launched the same day against Hasan Kahvecioglu, an editorialist with the daily Ortam, for allegedly insulting the army in a column on 26 March headlined "Why do the state, the police and the army act against their own citizens?" The military prosecutor's office has requested an 11-year prison sentence.
Ortam editor in chief Mehmet Davulcu is also being prosecuted by the military for publishing this column. He faces a total of 44 years in prison for the four counts on which he has been charged.