“Lobby for Cyprus expresses its solidarity with those journalists based in the Turkish-occupied area of Cyprus who are subject to unjust criminal proceedings in Turkey”, said Lobby for Cyprus spokesperson Vangelis Christou.
Christou was referring to the ongoing bullying, harassment and persecution of Sener Levent, editor-in-chief and publisher of Turkish-language daily Afrika and the journalist Ali Osman.
“Lobby for Cyprus stands up for the right of journalists in occupied Cyprus to express their views free from any forms of intimidation by President Erdogan, his henchmen in the occupied north or anybody else,” said Christou.
Sener Levent continues to be an outspoken critic of Turkey’s policies in Cyprus such as its ongoing illegal occupation in the north, attempts to segregate Cypriot citizens along etho-religious lines and Ankara’s continuing colonisation of occupied Cyprus with citizens of a foreign state, namely Turkey.
Afrika has been under significant pressure for some time. However, it is a further sign of Turkey’s descent into tyranny that Sener Levent and Ali Osman now face criminal proceedings in Turkey for articles published on 21 January and 1 February 2018. In these, they criticised President Erdogan and Turkey’s invasion of Syria at the start of this year, which they likened to Turkey’s invasions and occupation in Cyprus. Erdogan responded to those articles with inflammatory statements, describing Afrika as “a cheap and nasty newspaper” and inciting those he referred to as his “brothers” in occupied Cyprus “to give the necessary response”. Shortly afterwards, the offices of Afrika were attacked and ransacked by an ultra-nationalist mob, causing significant damage and spreading fear.
According to newspaper reports, Levent and Osman were recently summoned to testify in court in Ankara regarding the “insulting” articles.
“The authoritarian grip of President Erdogan grows ever more omnipresent in occupied Cyprus, where Turkey has been ultimately in control, since 1974. Journalists such as Sener Levent, in an increasing climate of intimidation, have demonstrated great courage in speaking out against Turkey’s violations not just in Cyprus, but in Syria”, said Christou.
In an interview with the Guardian newspaper in May 2018, Sener Levent criticised what he considers to be Erdogan’s “Islamofascist regime” commenting that:
“The Turkish army went into Syria and the Kurdish enclave of Afrin to commit a massacre and occupy the country, just as they did here.”
Christou went on to say that “not only is Turkey the world’s biggest jailer of journalists (according to the Committee to Protect Journalists), but Erdogan’s regime is attempting to silence critics of Turkey in occupied northern Cyprus. This constitutes a flagrant violation of freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union”.
“This case also has enormous significance for reasons beyond the issue of journalistic freedom in occupied Cyprus,” said Christou. “Anyone who has spoken out against Turkey, who visits the occupied area of Cyprus, could face the very real prospect of being ‘arrested’ or ‘extradited’ to Turkey where they would face criminal proceedings. The alleged basis might be that an ‘offence’ has been committed, namely publicly degrading the Turkish Nation, the Turkish Republic, the Government of Turkey, the armed forces of Turkey or a combination thereof.
“We would urge the United Nations, Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, the European Commission, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), as well as governments worldwide to take concrete action to bring pressure to bear on Turkey, to respect the fundamental rights of all legitimate Cypriot citizens. The charges against the journalists at Afrika newspaper should be dropped and Turkey should cease its attempts to restrict freedom of expression and freedom of the press in the area of Cyprus it still occupies”, said Christou.
Sener Levent, who writes a regular column in Greek-language Cypriot newspaper Politis, recently took issue with “Words that Matter: A Glossary for Journalism in Cyprus” that was controversially issued by the OSCE (see Sener Levent’s article translated to English). According to OSCE representative Harlem Désir, the report suggests “alternatives to negative words and phrases” when reporting on the Cyprus issue. Concerns were raised by Cypriot journalists that the document could be seen as a tool to curb any criticism or even mention of Turkey’s invasion and occupation in Cyprus, with some commentators even referring to it as a “mind control document”.
Christou concluded: “As the fate of Sener Levent hangs in the balance, so, too, does the fate of Europe. After all, if Turkey manages to stifle free speech and muzzle journalists in a Turkish-occupied part of Europe, free speech and journalism will be at risk everywhere in Europe”.