Opposition journalists released from prison

New York, October 4, 2002—An appeals court in the northern breakaway region of Cyprus yesterday released from prison two journalists with the opposition daily Afrika, according to international press reports.

On August 8, a court of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) sentenced Afrika editor-in-chief Sener Levent and editor Memduh Ener 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 journalists appealed the sentence.

Yesterday an appeals court ruled that their six-month prison sentences were too severe, reduced them to six weeks, and released the journalists, who had already served eight weeks in prison.

The prison sentence was “political,” Levent told CPJ through a translator in a telephone interview today. “Luckily, we have some democratic judges who follow European laws.”

Levent added that his staff and their families continue to receive threats, and that new lawsuits are being filed against the newspaper. He also said that he is unable to travel abroad because northern Cypriot authorities have confiscated his passport and identity papers.

Afrika, previously called Avrupa, is based in northern Cyprus and is known for its critical coverage of Turkish military forces occupying the northern third of the Mediterranean island and their efforts to obstruct reunification with the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government in the south.

Progress in case of journalist murdered in 1996
Meanwhile, the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, is moving ahead with the case of Turkish Cypriot journalist Kutlu Adali, who was assassinated in 1996.

The court held its first hearing on the case on January 31 and is planning to hear witnesses later this month, according to Emma Hellyer, a spokeswoman at the court.

Adali, a left-wing opposition journalist for the daily Yeni Duzen, was gunned down outside of his home on the evening of July 6, 1996. His wife filed a case against Turkey in 1997, claiming that Turkish and TRNC agents were involved in the killing.

Adali had opposed the division of Cyprus, criticized the policies of Denktash and Turkey, and received death threats prior to his assassination. An ultra-nationalist group with links to Turkish security forces claimed responsibility for the killing, and Turkish Cypriot authorities failed to investigate the case.