Northern Cyprus: Three journalists facing jail time for reporting sale of passports
Three journalists are being tried in Turkish-recognized Northern Cyprus on a charge of “violating privacy” for exposing an alleged plan to sell Turkish Cypriot passports. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the North Nicosia criminal court that began trying them on 4 June to take account of the public interest value of their reporting.
Deniz Abidin, Kazim Denizci and Esengul Aykac, who work for the Turkish Cypriot newspaper Yeni Bakış, are facing possible six-year prison sentences for publishing a recording of a phone call in which an interior ministry official asked a man to find people willing to pay the equivalent of 1,250 euros for Turkish Cypriot passports. The prosecutor-general’s office has since charged her with corruption.
After publishing details of the recording in the newspaper on 27 and 28 May, the three journalists were arrested and spent several hours in police custody, during which time the police confiscated their phones, exposing them to the possible violation of the confidentiality of their sources.
In the published recording, the interior ministry official also claimed that 50,000 people had been instructed to become Turkish Cypriot citizens in order to enable the far-right UBP to win the next presidential and parliamentary elections. These instructions would come from Turkey, the only country to recognise the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
“The three Yeni Bakış journalists were just doing their job when they exposed the illegal granting of Northern Cypriot passports for electoral purposes” said Pavol Szalai, the head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk. “We condemn their arrest by the police and the threat to the confidentiality of their sources as disproportionate measures, and we call on the Nicosia court that is trying them to take account for the public interest nature of their reporting.”
Journalists have also been subjected to pressure for reporting illegal trafficking in passports in the neighbouring Republic of Cyprus, an EU member state. Andreas Paraschos was forced to resign as editor of the weekly Kathimerini last January after publishing an article implicating President Nicos Anastasiades in a “golden passport” scheme, while the newspaper’s publishers were pressed to apologise.
The Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus are ranked 26th and 76th respectively in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.