Sener Levent and Mehmud Ener, of the daily paper Afrika, have been freed after the Turkish-Cypriot Supreme Court ruled on 3 October that their six-month prison sentences, handed down on 9 August, for criticising Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash in an article on 29 July, were excessive. It reduced them to six weeks each. They were freed because they had already been in jail longer than this.
09.08.2002 - Two journalists sentenced to six months in prison
Reporters Without Borders today voiced its outrage at the six-month jail
sentences imposed on two journalists of the Nicosia daily newspaper Afrika, Sener Levent and Memduh Ener, for "insulting" the President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Rauf Denktash (picture).
"To have jailed these two journalists is worthy of the worst regimes and all the more unacceptable in a country that aspires to join the European Union", Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to the Turkish Cypriot leader. Ménard recalled that "attacks, death threats, confiscation of equipment and fines had failed to silence Afrika (formerly called Avrupa), which has never hesitated to criticize the policies implemented by the Turkish authorities of Northern Cyprus." He concluded by urging the authorities to release the journalists and drop all further proceedings against them.
Levent, the newspaper's editor, and Ener, an editorial writer, were incarcerated on august 8th in Nicosia's central prison after receiving their six-month sentences from a civilian court. They were convicted of insulting the Turkish Cypriot leader in an articled published on 29 July 1999, when the newspaper was called Avrupa. The article reported a series of facts and ended with an invitation to the reader to choose, on the basis of these facts, which person was "public enemy No. 1". One of the options offered was "Rauf Denktash, President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus".
Levent, who is well known for criticizing President Denktash and his
policies, had reported having regularly received death threats from paramilitary groups in the past two years. In 2000, he was accused along with three other Avrupa journalists of spying on behalf of the Greek (southern) part of the island, and was held for several days. This occurred after the newspaper criticized the presence of 35,000 Turkish troops in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
On 24 May 2001, a bomb exploded in the building that houses the newspaper's printing press, without causing any injuries. On 9 November, the newspaper's computers were seized on the orders of the Turkish Cypriot judicial authorities on the pretext that it owed unpaid taxes. This came after the newspaper published articles criticizing the threatening tone adopted by Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and Foreign Minister Ismail Cem towards the (southern) Republic of Cyprus. On 11 December, a court ordered the confiscation of the newspaper's revenue, an estimated 5,000 million Turkish lira (3,820 Euros) a week.
On 12 December 2001, the authorities confiscated furniture and equipment from the newspaper's office and machinery from the printing press. On 15 December 2001, Avrupa closed itself down, throttled by the sentences and the fines, but Levent announced that it would be reborn with the name Afrika, explaining the Cyprus "no longer faces towards Europe, but instead is turning back towards prehistory, towards Africa".