August 9, 2002, New York—A court in the Turkish breakaway region of northern Cyprus yesterday sentenced two editors from the opposition daily Afrika to six months in prison for criticizing a Turkish Cypriot leader, according to international press reports and CPJ sources.
On Thursday, August 8, Afrika editor-in-chief Sener Levent and editor Memduh Ener were sentenced to six months in prison for libeling Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash in a July 1999 article titled “Who is the number one traitor?”
The newspaper also received a suspended fine of 5 billion Turkish liras (US$3,000), which the publication will be required to pay if it repeats the offense within the next two years.
The editors were arrested and jailed after the verdict was read.
Authorities harass, intimidate independent media
Afrika, previously called Avrupa, is based in northern Cyprus and is known for its aggressive reporting on Denktash, senior politicians in Ankara, Turkey, 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, for example, a bomb blast caused significant damage to Avrupa‘s printing offices. CPJ protested the bombing, for which no one claimed responsibility.
The harassment of Avrupa intensified at the end of 2001 amidst Denktash’s negotiations with Greek Cypriot leaders and international officials about reuniting the Mediterranean island, which has been divided since Turkey invaded the northern half in 1974.
In November, northern Cypriot authorities confiscated Avrupa‘s computers over an alleged unpaid 1997 tax debt. In December, officials confiscated money and property from Avrupa in connection with 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.