Some 35,000 Turkish troops are stationed in the self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which only Turkey recognizes as legitimate. The island remains divided into a more prosperous ethnic Greek sector in the south and an isolated and impoverished ethnic Turkish sector in the north. Cyprus’ capital, Nicosia, sits in the middle of the island and is divided into two halves, one controlled by the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot authorities and the other by the Turkish government in Ankara.
During 2001, journalists in northern Cyprus frequently criticized the Turkish Cypriot breakaway regime, founded after Turkey invaded the northern half of this Mediterranean island in 1974. In response, they were harassed and intimidated by Turkish Cypriot authorities and their supporters.
The daily Avrupa, based in northern Cyprus, is known for its aggressive reporting on Rauf Denktash, leader of the northern Cypriot regime, senior politicians in Ankara, and Turkish military officials based on the island. During 2001, the newspaper received regular threats and was also the victim of several violent attacks.
On May 24, a bomb blast caused significant damage to Avrupa‘s printing offices. Agence France-Presse, citing eyewitnesses, said unidentified assailants placed the bomb at the printing house gate and fled the scene in a waiting car. CPJ protested the bombing, for which no one claimed responsibility.
The harassment of Avrupa intensified during the run-up to Denktash’s December 4 meeting with Glafcos Clerides, the Greek Cypriot president of the Republic of Cyprus. The two leaders, who had not met in four years, planned to begin negotiating a settlement in hopes that all of Cyprus–not just the southern sector–could join the European Union in the near future.
On November 9, northern Cypriot authorities confiscated Avrupa‘s computers over an unpaid 1997 tax debt, Agence France-Presse reported. The paper’s editor, Sener Levent, charged that the seizure was related to articles critical of Turkish prime minister Bulent Ecevit and Foreign Minister Ismail Cem, who threatened to annex the island if the Greek Cypriot government joined the European Union on its own. In the end, Denktash backed away from this harsh rhetoric during his meeting with President Clerides and agreed to additional talks in January.
On December 9, a high school teacher in northern Cyprus was dismissed for criticizing the Turkish military presence in articles published in Avrupa. Some 350 students protested the dismissal in the Turkish-held sector of Nicosia.
On December 12, northern Cypriot authorities confiscated money and property from Avrupa. Authorities seized office furniture, equipment, and about 5 billion lira (US$3,500) in cash. The confiscations stemmed from a court-imposed fine of some 200 billion Turkish lira (US$138,000) resulting from a libel case that Denktash filed against the newspaper in 1999.
On December 15, the newspaper reappeared after a brief absence and announced that it had changed its name to Afrika to illustrate its contention that “the law of the jungle” ruled in northern Cyprus. The following day, Afrika reported that both Levent and Afrika reporter Ali Osman were preparing to sue the Turkish government in the European Court of Human Rights for arresting and detaining them on spurious espionage charges in July 2000. The journalists also planned to challenge the continued use of military courts in northern Cyprus.
Other cases of harassment and intimidation were reported as well. Sevgul Uludag, a journalist with the progressive, Turkish-language online magazine Hamamboculeri (www.hamamboculeri.org), told CPJ that in August, Turkish Cypriot militants threatened her and the publication in retaliation for articles that criticized the northern Cypriot regime.
In November, northern Cypriot authorities prevented a group of cartoonists from crossing the buffer zone dividing the island on their way to a joint exhibition of Greek and Turkish Cypriot cartoonists in the Greek sector of Nicosia, according to Huseyin Cakmak, president of the Turkish Cypriot Cartoonists’ Association.
A bomb blast ripped through the printing facility of the daily Avrupa in northern Cyprus, causing significant damage.
No one claimed responsibility for the blast, according to international press reports. Quoting eyewitnesses, Agence France-Presse said unidentified assailants placed the bomb at the printing house gate and fled the scene in a waiting car.
Avrupa is known for criticizing the government of Rauf Denktash, leader of the self-styled Turkish Federated State of Cyprus, which Turkey alone recognizes.
Some 35,000 Turkish troops are stationed in the north Cypriot state, founded after Turkey invaded the northern half of the island in 1974.
Avrupa has faced numerous lawsuits over the years in response to its reporting. In July 2000, three staffers were arrested and accused of espionage. In November, Avrupa‘s printing plant was the target of another bomb attack.
In a May 31 press release, CPJ condemned the bombing and called on northern Cypriot authorities to launch an investigation and bring the perpetrators to justice.