In the context of the Republic of Cyprus’s candidacy for entry into the European Union (the southern Greek part of the island), the threats of annexation of the northern sector by Turkey, then the dialogue begun at the end of the year between the leaders of the island’s two sectors, the leader of the of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), Rauf Denktash, did not tolerate any criticism of him by the opposition daily, Avrupa. The paper and its managing editor, Sener Levent, were victimised all year long by the authorities’ unremitting efforts, which finally put the independent daily out of business.
A journalist threatened
In 2001 Sener Levent, owner and editor-in-chief of the Turkish Cypriot daily, Avrupa, regularly received death threats from, according to him, paramilitary forces. On 23 May he received more than five hundred insulting messages by e-mail at the newspaper.
According to the findings of research done by the Cypriot daily, Yenicag gazetesi, these messages would have come from the TRNC’s army military school.
Pressure and obstruction
On 24 May 2001 a bomb exploded in the buildings housing the printing press of the Turkish Cypriot daily, Avrupa, in Nicosia without claiming any victims. The newspaper’s owner and editor-in-chief, Sener Levent, is known for his critical opinion of President Rauf Denktash and his policies. Mr. Levent and three other Avrupa journalists had already been accused in 2000 of spying for the (southern) Greek part of the island and were held for several days after the paper criticised the presence of 35,000 Turkish soldiers in the northern sector.
On 3 November the Turkish Cypriot courts had the daily’s computers seized on the pretext of unpaid taxes. The computers had already been seized in May 2000 for the payment of a fine imposed in the wake of an article adjudged to be insulting for President Rauf Denktash. According to Sener Levent, the new seizure occurred as a reaction to recent articles in the daily denouncing the threatening tone of the Turkish Prime Minister, Bulent
Ecevit, and the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ismail Cem, towards the (southern) Republic of Cyprus, candidate for entry into the European Union. A week before Mr. Ecevit had warned that if Cyprus entered the European Union, Turkey might annex the north of the island which it has occupied since 1974. The Avrupa articles stressed that the decision to annex the northern part of the island to Turkey could only come from the Cypriot people and that the Turkish threats made its presence appear to be an occupation.
On 11 December a court ordered the newspaper’s receipts, evaluated at five billion Turkish lira (3,820 euros) per week, to be confiscated.
On 12 December, the authorities confiscated furniture and equipment in the daily’s offices and seized the machinery in the printing press. Sener Levent explained that this was due to the non-payment of 200 billion Turkish lira (roughly 150,000 euros) for damages to President Denktash, a fine to which the paper was sentenced in 1999.
On 15 December Avrupa closed down, stifled by the court rulings and fines. Sener Levent announced that the daily would be reborn under the name Afrika, explaining that Cyprus was "no longer heading for Europe but was returning to prehistory, towards Africa".