Attacks on the Press 2002: Cyprus

Some 35,000 Turkish troops are stationed in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), founded after Turkey invaded the northern half of the Mediterranean island in 1974. 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, is also divided in two, with one side controlled by the internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot authorities and the other by the Turkish government.

During 2002, opposition Turkish-Cypriot journalists in northern Cyprus frequently criticized the TRNC. In response, authorities and their supporters harassed and intimidated those journalists.

The daily Afrika, based in northern Cyprus, is known for its critical reporting about senior politicians in Turkey, Turkish military officials stationed on the island, and Rauf Denktash, the leader of the northern Cypriot regime. During 2002, the newspaper reportedly received multiple threats, and two of its editors–Sener Levent and Memduh Ener–were imprisoned in August and served two months for allegedly libeling Denktash.

The prison sentences came on the heels of June 30 local elections in the north, in which Denktash’s ruling party retained power but lost three key cities to the opposition. Denktash also faced growing international pressure throughout 2002 for obstructing efforts to reunify the island.

Meanwhile, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, opened the case of Turkish-Cypriot journalist Kutlu Adali, who was gunned down outside his home in July 1996. Adali, a left-wing opposition journalist for the Nicosia daily Yeni Duzen, opposed Cyprus’ division and criticized the policies of Denktash and Turkey. He had received death threats prior to his assassination, and an ultranationalist group with links to Turkish security forces claimed responsibility for his killing. Turkish-Cypriot authorities failed to investigate the case.

In 1997, Adali’s wife, Ilkay, filed a case against Turkey with the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that Turkish and TRNC agents were involved in the murder. The case remained pending at year’s end.

February 24


An unidentified individual called the office of the opposition daily newspaper Afrika and made a bomb threat, the newspaper reported. The caller said, “I have placed a bomb in your printing house, but I pitied you. However, from now on I will not pity you.”

August 8

Sener Levent, Afrika
Memduh Ener, Afrika

Levent and Ener, editor-in-chief and editor, respectively, of the opposition daily Afrika, 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 announced. On October 3, an appeals court ruled that the journalists’ punishment was too severe, reduced their prison sentences to six weeks, and released the men, who had already served eight weeks in jail.

October 14

Xavier Vidal Folchs, El País

Folchs, editor-in-chief of the Madrid daily El País, and 10 other unidentified Spanish journalists, were expelled from the northern breakaway region of Cyprus. The journalists were visiting the internationally recognized southern half of the island to participate in a conference on EU enlargement.

They crossed into the northern half of the island, which Turkish military forces occupy, to meet with Turkish Cypriot journalists, opposition activists, and members of nongovernmental organizations. Police officers and a Turkish Cypriot government official broke up the meeting and expelled the Spanish journalists to the island’s southern sector, charging that the group had not identified themselves as journalists when they crossed into the north.