Press freedom sharply declined in 2003 as the authorities in the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" (recognised only by Turkey) stepped up harassment of the independent media.
Cyprus will join the European Union in May 2004, but only the internationally-recognised Greek Cypriot southern part of the island unless a solution to its partition is found before then. A United Nations plan to reunify the island, which has been divided since Turkey invaded in 1974 in response to a ultra-nationalist coup that tried to make it part of Greece, failed in March 2003.
Repression of the media increased considerably between then and parliamentary elections in Northern Cyprus in December, targeting journalists who criticised the policies of the Northern Cyprus president, Rauf Denktash, had ties with Greek-Cypriot colleagues or EU representatives or who favoured the island’s reunification and EU membership. Five journalists faced between 10 and 40 years in prison for "insulting the army" and will be imprisoned during their trial, as the law requires.
Tension also increased among the media with the pro-government press carrying articles threatening and insulting pro-opposition journalists. When the north-south border opened for the first time in 20 years, the authorities in the north made the movements of Greek-Cypriot journalists more difficult.
New information about a journalist killed before 2003
Four European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) judges went to Cyprus on 23 June 2003 to investigate the death of Kutlu Adali, a columnist for the Turkish-Cypriot daily Yenidüzen (organ of the left-wing Turkish Republican Party, CTP) shot dead in front of his Nicosia home on 6 July 1996. They questioned several former army and police officials in the north on 24 June.
The far-right Turkish Revenge Brigade (TIT) claimed responsibility for the murder of Adali, who had received death threats. The ECHR had agreed in January 2002 to hear a complaint filed by his widow Ilkay, who said Turkish or northern regime agents (or both) were involved in his death because he had criticised the policies and behaviour of Turkey and the northern regime. The northern authorities denied this and said they had done a thorough investigation and had not been able to find the killers.
Three journalists arrested
Turkish-Cypriot Aziz Ener (owner) and Greek-Cypriots Sotiris Vlachos (publisher) and Loannis Flourentzou (reporter), of the bilingual Greek-Turkish monthly Sosyalist Söylem, were arrested on 8 December by Turkish-Cypriot police as they distributed the paper, allegedly without permission, in the eastern town of Famagusta. They were released the next day. Ener was not charged, but his two Greek-Cypriot colleagues were fined, on grounds that foreigners did not have the rights to distribute goods in the country without a licence. Flourentzou was refused entry to the north of the island on 10 December.
A journalist physically attacked
Murat Kanatli, editor of the pro-opposition weekly Yeni Cag, was attacked in Nicosia on 17 October 2003 by members of the extreme nationalist group The Grey Wolves. He was on his way back to his office after going to the group’s headquarters to get comments after covering a demonstration by the organisation against the EU, US and British positions on Cyprus. About 30 activists beat him up in the street and snatched his digital camera. Police questioned him at length about why he was at the group’s headquarters but did not arrest anyone. They managed to get his camera back at his request but not its diskette. The police began legal proceedings against him on 31 October for trespassing on private property and stealing a magazine from the Grey Wolves’ headquarters.
Cenk Mutluyakali, editor of the leftwing Turkish-Cypriot daily Yenidüzen, received telephone threats from an officer of the northern regime’s armed forces on 8 February 2003, the day after the paper had criticised the National People’s Movement (NPM), founded by Taner Etkin, an aide of Northern President Rauf Denktash, and headquartered in army premises. The movement’s daily, Volkan, regularly prints articles threatening journalists working for pro-opposition daily papers, including Afrika, Yenidüzen and Ortam.
Harassment and obstruction
Police opened an enquiry on 21 March 2003 into Murat Kanatli, editor of the pro-opposition weekly Yeni Cag, for allegedly insulting and tarnishing the reputation of the army in an 18 May 2001 article headed "Militarist brainwashing continues" and quoting a statement by the youth wing of the Patriotic Unity Movement (YBH), of which Kanatli was once secretary-general, criticising teachers for taking their pupils to military bases.
Police prevented 25 Turkish-Cypriot journalists from covering a demonstration on 25 March in the Turkish-Cypriot village of Doganci in support of the UN peace plan for Cyprus. They were held up by police for nearly two hours and not allowed to watch the protest or leave the village. The journalists included freelance photographers Birol Bebek and Harun Uçar, five journalists from Kibris (Dilek Cetereisi, Basaran Düzgün, Süleyman Ergüclü, Hasan Hastürer and Ahmet Uçok), Metin Günör (Genc TV), Murat Kanatli (Yeni Cag), Cenk Mutluyakali (Yenidüzen) and Hüseyin Yalyali (TAK agency).
Andreas Manolis, a photographer for the Greek-Cypriot daily Fileleftheros and Reuters news agency, and George Georgiou, of the independent Greek-Cypriot station Sigma TV, were questioned by police on 24 April when they tried to cross the border between the two parts of the island.
Sener Levent, editor of the Turkish-Cypriot opposition daily Afrika, was turned back on 4 May 2003 by Turkish-Cypriot officials as he tried to cross into the southern part of the island along with two of his journalists - Ali Osman and Faize Ozdemirciler - at the invitation of the Union of Cyprus Journalists. The officials asked to see their identity papers, but Levent did not have any because the authorities confiscated them in 2000 after accusing him of spying for the Greek-Cypriot republic, though he was never charged with any crime.
Cypriot journalists demonstrated in support of Levent on 6 May at the Ledra Palace Hotel crossing point in Nicosia. The Union of Cyprus Journalists sent a petition to the United Nations condemning the behaviour of the northern authorities. Levent filed a complaint before the European Court of Human Rights that his freedom of movement had been restricted. He also said he had received telephoned death threats, but police did not investigate. He finally got his passport and other papers back on 13 June.
Turkish-Cypriot border officials stopped Fileleftheros and Reuters news agency photographer Andreas Manolis from crossing into the north on 27 May, saying journalists had to get permission to do so the previous day and that he must leave his camera behind.
Members of the extreme nationalist Grey Wolves group went to the offices of the privately-owned ultra-nationalist TV station ART on 27 October and threatened a programme guest, Hasan Kahvecioglu, a columnist on the pro-opposition daily Ortam, and forced the station to play military music. Kahvecioglu was taking part in a discussion about an incident the previous day involving journalists from ART and the opposition party Peace and Democracy.
Five journalists were charged on 3 and 4 November for "insulting the army" in articles criticising the violent breaking up by police (which are part of the army) of a demonstration in the village of Doganci on 25 March in support of a symbolic referendum after the failure of the UN reunification plan.
The military prosecutor’s office began legal action on 3 November against Basaran Duzgun, editor and columnist of the daily Kibris and stringer for the French news agency Agence France-Presse, calling for a 10-year prison sentence for "insulting the army" in a 27 March article criticising police methods and appealing to Greece, Turkey and Britain for action as official guarantors of Cypriot independence in 1960.
Hasan Hastürer, a columnist for Kibris, was charged on 3 November in a civil court with "incitement to hatred of the state with intent to denigrate and destroy it" and for "insults and incitement to hatred of senior Turkish officers" in a 26 March article about police repression in the village of Donganci. He faces up to 11 years in prison. The military prosecutor’s office and a civil court began legal action on 4 November against Kibris editor Süleyman Ergüclü for publishing the articles. He faced up to 20 years in prison.
Ortam columnist Hasan Kahvecioglu was charged on 4 November with insulting the army in a 26 March article headed "Why are the state, the police and army acting against their compatriots?" The military prosecutor’s office called for 11 years imprisonment. Mehmet Davulcu, the paper’s editor, was also charged on four counts for publishing the article and faces a total of up to 44 years in prison if convicted.
The trial that began on 21 November 2002 of Kazim Denizci and Ali Osman, both of the daily Afrika, freelance pro-opposition journalist Oya Gürel and Sevgul Uludag, of the leftwing Turkish-Cypriot daily Yenidüzen, for "trespassing in a public building" was adjourned on 23 December for the seventh time. The next hearing was set for 16 February 2004.
The four had covered a demonstration on 15 October 2002 by teachers’ union members at a secondary school and police had tried to expel the journalists. The teachers were protesting against the sacking of a colleague, Nilgün Orhon, who was also a journalist on the daily Afrika, for writing an article on 7 November 2001 denouncing the Turkish "invasion" of northern Cyprus. The journalists face up to two years in prison.