Northern Cyprus judge acquits two journalists of insulting ErdoğanMay 17, 2019
Press freedom defenders have reacted with jubilation after a judge in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus acquitted two journalists accused of insulting Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
A court threw out charges of defamation against Şener Levent and Ali Osman Tabak brought after the small-circulation daily Afrika published a cartoon depicting a Greek statue urinating on Erdoğan’s head.
“Our reaction is one of relief … this is clearly a good sign for press freedom,” said Pauline Ades-Mevel of the Paris-based rights group Reporters Without Borders.
“You don’t convict journalists because of a cartoon,” she said. “If they had been sent to prison, it would have had a chilling effect on other journalists in northern Cyprus.”
Levent, the newspaper’s veteran editor, and Tabak, its chief reporter, had faced up to five years in prison if found guilty of accusations that included “inciting hatred against a foreign leader with the aim of disrupting peaceful relations between the two countries”.
Since 1974, when Ankara invaded Cyprus in response to an Athens-inspired coup, the Mediterranean island has been divided by a UN-patrolled ceasefire line between Greeks in the south and Turks in the north.
Although independent, the self-proclaimed Turkish Cypriot republic relies heavily on Turkey militarily and financially – dependence deepened by decades of international isolation. The tiny territory is recognised only by Ankara.
Levent described Thursday’s verdict as a victory for the Turkish Cypriot media and judiciary. Despite being under Ankara’s suzerainty, the ruling demonstrated that Turkish Cypriots continued to enjoy an independent legal system, he said.
“Erdoğan lost and we won,” he said after the trial result was announced to rapturous applause. “Turkey cannot do here what it does in Turkey … We are Cypriots, citizens of the Republic of Cyprus and of the EU. We are not in Turkey here.”
Citing previous European court of human rights rulings exonerating journalists of similar charges, Judge Cenkay Inan said he did not believe the cartoon “constitutes an insult”.
The image, first printed in an Athenian newspaper after a visit to Greece by the Turkish president in December 2017, was later republished by Afrika under the caption “Through Greek eyes.” As such, Inan argued, the newspaper was only conveying how Greeks felt about the visit.
Turkey has become the world’s biggest jailer of journalists under Erdogan’s Islamist AKP party and its neo-nationalist allies. Almost 200 have been imprisoned, most of them rounded up in a crackdown targeting critical independent and opposition media after an abortive coup in July 2016, according to the Stockholm Centre for Freedom, which has been monitoring arrests.
Against this background Levent has emerged as one of Erdoğan’s fiercest critics.
The editor, who is also a candidate in next week’s European parliament elections, has delighted in ribbing Erdoğan, publicly describing him as an “Islamo-fascist” whose ultimate aim is to fully occupy northern Cyprus through military might and settlers imported from the mainland.
Last year a mob of ultra-nationalists stormed Afrika’s offices after being incited by Erdoğan “to give the necessary response” days after Levent criticised Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria, likening it to the country’s invasion of Cyprus. The 70-year-old only narrowly escaped being lynched in an incident that later prompted thousands of Turkish Cypriot protesters to take to the streets.
Sami Özuslu, who heads the mini-state’s largest journalists’ association, said the verdict would embolden local media outlets to keep on “telling the truth.”
Under pressure from Turkish officials, self-censorship among intimidated journalists is believed to have increased.
“The court ruling was a good day for press freedom and freedom of expression,” Özuslu said. “Now journalists won’t feel they face any problem when they write their thoughts and that is very important for today, for tomorrow, for the future.”
But Reporters Without borders cautioned that Levent still faced legal proceedings over his criticism of Turkey’s tactics in northern Syria. “We remain vigilant,” said Ades-Mevel, who heads the media watchdog’s European Union and Balkan desk. “Şener Levent will be tried on other charges. This is not the end.”
Source of this (above) article: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/17/northern-cyprus-judge-acquits-two-journalists-of-insulting-erdogan