Respect urged as Ankara takes case against Turkish Cypriot paper

OSCE and European Commission defend freedom to write ‘Zorba the Cypriot’ article

The European Commission and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe have called for respect for freedom of expression in northern Cyprus following lawsuits by Turkey's public prosecutor against a Turkish Cypriot newspaper.

Ankara's legal action against publisher Sener Levent and journalist Ali Osman was initiated after an article in the newspaper Afrika called upon Turkey to withdraw from northern Cyprus, which it occupied in 1974.

OSCE representative on freedom of the media Harlem Desir urged Turkey to drop the legal action. "It is essential for the public authorities to refrain from initiating lawsuits against journalists for their work . . . The right of freedom of expression encompasses views that may offend, shock and disturb," he said.

On August 1st, Afrika, a small Turkish-Cypriot newspaper, republished the offending article, which had originally appeared in January. Entitled "Zorba the Cypriot", the article addressed Turkey: "From which hell have you come to my country that smells of lemon and jasmine? How did you come here? Go away, leave. You will leave. This little island has seen many kings and sultans . . . You will take your slogans that Allah is great and your cursing and you will leave."


The spark that lit the poetic comment was Turkey's invasion of the Kurdish Afrin enclave in Syria. The article infuriated Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who urged "brothers in northern Cyprus" to respond, prompting an attack on the paper's offices.

Into darkness

Turkish Cypriot press, social media, organisations and individuals have roundly criticised Turkey for initiating legal proceedings against Levent, Osman and Afrika, and castigated Turkish Cypriot politicians for their silence. By contrast, the Cyprus government took up the case with the commission and the OSCE, which has 57 member states.

Cenk Mutlyakali, a columnist with Yeni Düzen, another Turkish-Cypriot newspaper, wrote: "A country which has lost its freedom of thought, afraid of the truth, drifted into the darkness of one-man rule, wants to drag Cyprus" under Turkish protection.

He warned that the journalists facing the legal action could be extradited to Turkey under a protocol of November 1st, 1988, although Turkish Cypriot lawyers argue no formal extradition treaty exists. The situation is complicated because both Levent and Osman are citizens of the Cyprus republic and the EU.

The prosecution of Afrika has demonstrated to alarmed Turkish Cypriots that Ankara is determined to export to northern Cyprus its mainland crackdown on dissent. Since the mid-July 2016 failed coup in Turkey, 200 media outlets have been shut down, 250 journalists have been jailed and 140 face arrest.

Turkish coup

Last weekend, 45 Turkish nationals, including 29 ex-soldiers, nine women and 17 children were extradited under the 1988 protocol from northern Cyprus to Turkey due to accusations that the men had ties to the movement charged with staging the 2016 Turkish coup.

Two Turkish Cypriot academics who signed the Academics for Peace (between Turkey and its Kurds) online petition were detained and interrogated at Istanbul and Izmir airports in Turkey and charges were brought, leading Turkish Cypriot academics and activists to cancel visits to Turkey.

Many Turkish Cypriots have expressed outrage on social media, risking legal proceedings. Some Turkish Cypriots have voiced concern that their police could soon follow the example of those in Turkey by seeking out banned books and songs.

Accusing Erdogan of seeking to change them into devout conservatives by building mosques and religious schools in northern Cyprus, increasing numbers of Turkish Cypriots say Turkey was supposed to save them from Greek Cypriots during the 1974 troubles, but now ask who will save them from Turkey.

Many of the 130,000 Turkish Cypriots, whose contemporary lifestyle mirrors that of Greek Cypriots, resent the importation since 1974 of some 185,000 traditional, culturally different Turkish settlers who support Erdogan’s efforts to promote religion and Turkish nationalism.