The decision to acquit Turkish Cypriot daily newspaper Afrika, its publisher and one of its journalists of defaming Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan was a victory in the face of Ankara’s attempt to quash freedom of expression in the north, according to the newspaper’s lawyer Tacan Reynar.
“The pressure against freedom of the press and expression is the beginning of a pressure certain people wish to exert on Turkish Cypriots,” he said in an interview with the Cyprus News Agency.
The Turkish Cypriot community is in “great danger” he added.
Afrika, its publisher Sener Levent and journalist Ali Osman Tabak were acquitted by the Nicosia ‘district court’ in the north on May 16. They had been facing up to five years in prison on charges of insulting and defaming Erdogan after the newspaper published a cartoon showing a Greek statue urinating on Erdogan’s head in December 2017. A few weeks later the offices of Afrika were attacked by an angry mob.
Reynar explains that the suits against the newspaper were filed after the attacks of January 22, 2018 which were a result of Afrika being targeted by Erdogan himself.
Reynar had presided as a senior judge over a case against six individuals who took part in those attacks and had handed over sentences of between two to six months incarceration. However, when those individuals were released early by a parole board he resigned.
He then volunteered to represent Afrika together with Mine Atli.
All three cases against Afrika he said were political.
It was the first time, Reynar said, that a case was filed over a cartoon.
“It was a case against a caricature that Sener Levent found on the internet, as he told the court, from a Greek friend of his on Facebook and he published it on the newspaper.”
Reynar said the pressure from Ankara was increasing every day and were not just economic but aimed at curbing freedom of expression and the freedom of press.
“This is very dangerous. There is now an intervention on our identity, on the meaning of democracy. They are intervening on who we are,” he said. “That is why I believe that the time has come to wonder who we are and that is why I decided to take part in this struggle. I considered it my duty. I could have stayed out of it, especially after I resigned. But this is a social obligation which I undertook with great zest.”
He added that while the significance of the decision might not be immediately clear it was of great importance to the Turkish Cypriot community.