Turkish Cypriot newspaper publisher Sener Levent has been sentenced to one year in jail for offending Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in a cartoon printed in 2017, it emerged on Tuesday.
The sentence was announced by Levent himself on social media, who wrote “the criminal case filed against me in Ankara has been concluded and I was informed of the court’s decision this morning”.
He proceeded to say that he was sentenced to one year in jail for insulting the Turkish president in cartoon published on December 8, 2017 in the Turkish Cypriot newspaper Avrupa.
The penalties for offending Erdogan range between one and four years in jail.
The cartoon depicted an ancient Greek statue urinating on Erdogan’s head. It initially appeared online during Erdogan’s 2017 visit to Greece, and the paper later published it with the caption “seen through Greek eyes.”
For the same case, Levent was tried and acquitted by a Turkish Cypriot court back in 2019.
But Turkey did not recognise the decision of the court and filed the same case in Ankara without Levent being physically present at the proceedings.
“The fascist government in Ankara, which has intensified its pressure on us, aims and tries to intimidate in our country all those who oppose it.
“Just as they do not recognise the decision of our ‘court’, I do not recognise the decision of their court,” he said, adding that justice is “already dead in Turkey”.
Levent has Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot nationality but is not a Turkish citizen, so he may serve his sentence only if he travels to Turkey.
Meanwhile, the Turkish Cypriot publisher faces another two criminal cases against him in an Ankara court for two separate articles he had written concerning Erdogan.
One was a June 1, 2016 article entitled The Kurds and us and the second suit concerns Zorba the Cypriot, dated February 1, 2018.
The case which led to the sentence sparked concern in the south with politicians bringing the matter to the European Union.
In late December 2020, six MEPs from Cyprus wrote a letter to European institutions in support of the Turkish Cypriot newspaper publisher and informed the European Commission of Ankara’s decision to put the Avrupa publisher on trial in Turkey.
The six asked the EU to take the necessary measures to protect Levent and stop his prosecution, saying that for his activity, the publisher had been awarded the European Citizen Award by the European parliament in 2018.
In March last year, the EU and the Council of Europe (CoE) responded to a letter by Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides saying they were watching “with serious concern” any attempt to undermine the freedom of the press in the Turkish Cypriot community through persecution and intimidation.
In the letter, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Joseph Borrell said he was aware of the charges against Levent and “the disturbing history of intimidation and harassment” against him.
Turkey, as a candidate country and long-time member of the Council of Europe “is expected to implement the highest democratic standards and practices, including ensuring freedom of expression and freedom of speech,” Borrell was quoted as saying by the Cyprus News Agency.