Journalists Condemn "Monstrous" Jail Sentences For Editors in Cyprus

The International Federation of journalists and its regional group, the European Federation of Journalists, today condemned a Turkish Cypriot court ruling sentencing two editors of a daily newspaper to jail for criticising the Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash. "This is a monstrous attack on press freedom," said Aidan White, the General Secretary of the IFJ, "It flies in the face of all European and global standards of freedom of expression."

Last week a Turkish Cypriot court sentenced two editors from the opposition daily Afrika (formerly known as Avrupa), editor-in-chief Sener Levent and editor Memduh Ener, to six months jail over an article about Denktash in a July 1999 article titled "Who is the number one traitor?" They were jailed immediately after the verdict was read.

The newspaper was also fined 5 billion Turkish liras (US$3,000), which the publication will be required to pay if it repeats the offence within the next two years.

"The harshness of these actions indicate how intolerant is the Turkish Cypriot administration of criticism", said the IFJ. "In these circumstances democracy and press freedom cannot survive."

The IFJ is calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Sener Levent and Memduh Ener and for an end to the on-going legal actions against the newspaper which, says the federation, amount to a continuation of a long-running campaign of harassment.

Throughout the first half of 2000, Avrupa was under siege by the authorities. Editors and journalists received up to 90 summonses and received stiff fines, threatening the paper with closure. In July 2000, the IFJ carried out a fact-finding mission to Cyprus, following the arrest Sener Levent and called for an end to the persecution of the paper. In 2001, the newspaper's aggressive reporting of senior politicians in Ankara, Turkey, and Turkish military officials, led to new attacks. In May a bomb devastated its print works.

There was more trouble at the end of 2001 amidst Denktash's negotiations with Greek Cypriot leaders and international officials about reuniting the island, which has been divided since Turkey invaded the northern half in 1974. In November, the authorities confiscated Avrupa computers over an alleged unpaid tax debt. In December, officials confiscated cash and property from Avrupa over a libel case that Denktash filed in 1999.

On December 15, the newspaper reappeared after a brief absence having changed its name to Afrika to illustrate its contention that "the law of the jungle" ruled in northern Cyprus.