Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called on Saturday for the acquittal of two Turkish Cypriot journalists who are facing five years in prison if convicted of insulting and defaming Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
“We urge the court to acquit Şener Levent and Ali Osman Tabak because convicting these two journalists would be a grave error and would send an extremely negative signal to the media in the northern part of Cyprus,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s European Union and Balkan desk.
Şener Levent, the editor of Afrika daily, and Ali Osman Tabak, a journalist of the same paper, are being tried for publishing first on social networks and then in print a cartoon showing a Greek statue urinating on Erdoğan’s head.
The charges relate to defaming and insulting the Turkish leader and “inciting hatred against a foreign leader with the aim of spoiling the friendly and peaceful relations between the two countries.”
Final arguments are due to be presented in court on 22 April.
“At a time when Ankara is maintaining an enormous amount of pressure on the Turkish media and the Turkish Cypriot media are being harassed more and more, there is an urgent need for the northern part of Cyprus to assert its journalistic independence vis-à-vis its Turkish neighbour,” Adès-Mével said.
According to the RSF announcement, Turkish Cypriot journalists have recently been facing increasing pressure with regards to coverage of Turkey and its policies towards Cyprus, with some receiving ‘warnings’ from Turkish officials and others forced to self-censor their work fearing a crackdown on media similar to that within Turkey.