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Report slams Turkish and Turkish Cypriot tactics against media
2002-03-27 20:06:15

New York, Mar 26 (CNA) -- Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot regime in occupied Cyprus have come under severe criticism for the harsh restrictions they impose on the media.

"Journalists in northern Cyprus were harassed and intimidated by Turkish Cypriot authorities and their supporters," the 2001 report of the Organization for the Protection of Journalists said, and proceeded to list several such cases, including that of the daily "Avrupa", whose printing offices were bombed and equipment confiscated.|

On freedom of the press in Turkey, the report said in spite of more than 30 amendments to the country's restrictive constitution, the state still has the constitutional power to censor, prosecute and jail journalists for covering controversial topics, such as the Kurdish problem, political Islam and the military's role in national politics.

This is the first time the report has a separate chapter on Cyprus, in which it is noted that "some 35,000 Turkish troops are stationed in the self-styled" Turkish Cypriot regime in northern Turkish occupied Cyprus, which only Turkey recognizes as legitimate.

It says the island remains divided and its capital Nicosia is divided into two halves, "one controlled by the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot authorities and the other by the Turkish government in Ankara."

It says the Turkish Cypriot daily "Avrupa" received "regular threats and was also the victim of violent attacks", including a bomb attack in May and intensified harassment in the run up to a meeting between Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash and "Glafcos Clerides, the Greek Cypriot president of the Republic of Cyprus."

Avrupa's money and property were confiscated over a debt, the report says and notes that the paper changed its name to "Afrika" to show its contention that the law of the jungle rules in occupied Cyprus.

The report refers to the dismissal of a Turkish Cypriot teacher for critical articles in "Avrupa" and the threats against Turkish Cypriot journalist Sevgul Uludag for articles in her online magazine against the regime.

Turkish Cypriot cartoonists, the report says, were prevented from crossing the UN-controlled buffer zone to attend a joint exhibition of Greek and Turkish Cypriot cartoonists in the government controlled part of the capital Nicosia.

In the chapter on Turkey, the report said Kurdish-language broadcast media can still be censored if it threatens "national security" or "unity".

"Even as parliament tried to make Turkey's law more palatable to the democracies of the EU, authorities continued to prosecute journalists and censor publications," the report said.

Pro-Kurdish leftist and Islamic media were primarily targeted but also several prominent mainstream journalists faced legal harassment, it added and lists at least four cases of journalists.

In 2001 Turkish language broadcasts of the BBC and the German national station Deutsche Welle were banned because they harmed "national security."

It notes also that between 3,000 and 5,000 media workers were laid off in two months and this highlighted the concentration of media ownership and the negative effect it has on the diversity of opinions and the coverage of sensitive issues.

The entire text of the section of the Report on Cyprus is quoted below:



Some 35,000 Turkish troops are stationed in the self-styled "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus", which only Turkey recognizes as legitimate. The island remains divided into a more prosperous ethnic Greek sector in the south and an isolated and impoverished ethnic Turkish sector in the north. Cyprus' capital, Nicosia, sits in the middle of the island and is divided into two halves, one controlled by the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot authorities and the other by the Turkish government in Ankara. During 2001, journalists in northern Cyprus frequently criticized the Turkish Cypriot breakaway regime, founded after Turkey invaded the northern half of this Mediterranean island in 1974. In response, they were harassed and intimidated by Turkish Cypriot "authorities" and their supporters.

The daily Avrupa, based in northern Cyprus, is known for its aggressive reporting on Rauf Denktash, leader of the northern Cypriot regime, senior politicians in Ankara, and Turkish military officials based on the island. During 2001, the newspaper received regular threats and was also the victim of several violent attacks.

On May 24, a bomb blast caused significant damage to Avrupa's printing offices. Agence France-Presse, citing eyewitnesses, said unidentified assailants placed the bomb at the printing house gate and fled the scene in a waiting car. CPJ protested the bombing, for which no one claimed responsibility.

The harassment of Avrupa intensified during the run-up to Denktash's December 4 meeting with Glafcos Clerides, the (Greek Cypriot) President of the Republic of Cyprus. The two leaders, who had not met in four years, planned to begin negotiating a settlement in hopes that all of Cyprus-not just the southern sector-could join the European Union in the near future. On November 9, northern Cypriot "authorities" confiscated Avrupa's computers over an unpaid 1997 tax debt, Agence France-Presse reported. The paper's editor, Sener Levent, charged that the seizure was related to articles critical of Turkish prime minister Bulent Ecevit and Foreign Minister Ismail Cem, who threatened to annex the island if the (Greek) Cypriot government joined the European Union on its own. In the end, Denktash backed away from this harsh rhetoric during his meeting with President Clerides and agreed to additional talks in January.

On December 9, a high school teacher in northern Cyprus was dismissed for criticizing the Turkish military presence in articles published in Avrupa. Some 350 students protested the dismissal in the Turkish-held sector of Nicosia.

On December 12, northern Cypriot "authorities" confiscated money and property from Avrupa. Authorities seized office furniture, equipment, and about 5 billion lira (US$3,500) in cash. The confiscations stemmed from a court-imposed fine of some 200 billion Turkish lira (US$138,000) resulting from a libel case that Denktash filed against the newspaper in 1999.

On December 15, the newspaper reappeared after a brief absence and announced that it had changed its name to Afrika to illustrate its contention that "the law of the jungle" ruled in northern Cyprus. The following day, Afrika reported that both Levent and Afrika reporter Ali Osman were preparing to sue the Turkish government in the European Court of Human Rights for arresting and detaining them on spurious espionage charges in July 2000. The journalists also planned to challenge the continued use of military courts in northern Cyprus.

Other cases of harassment and intimidation were reported as well. Sevgul Uludag, a journalist with the progressive, Turkish-language online magazine Hamamboculeri (www.hamamboculeri.org), told CPJ that in August, Turkish Cypriot militants threatened her and the publication in retaliation for articles that criticized the northern Cypriot regime.

In November, northern Cypriot "authorities" prevented a group of cartoonists from crossing the buffer zone dividing the island on their way to a joint exhibition of Greek and Turkish Cypriot cartoonists in the Greek sector of Nicosia, according to Huseyin Cakmak, president of the Turkish Cypriot Cartoonists' Association.

May 24

A bomb blast ripped through the printing facility of the daily Avrupa in northern Cyprus, causing significant damage.

No one claimed responsibility for the blast, according to international press reports. Quoting eyewitnesses, Agence France-Presse said unidentified assailants placed the bomb at the printing house gate and fled the scene in a waiting car.

Avrupa is known for criticizing the "government" of Rauf Denktash, leader of the self-styled "Turkish Federated State of Cyprus", which Turkey alone recognizes.

Some 35,000 Turkish troops are stationed in the "north Cypriot state", founded after Turkey invaded the northern half of the island in 1974.

Avrupa has faced numerous lawsuits over the years in response to its reporting. In July 2000, three staffers were arrested and accused of espionage. In November, Avrupa's printing plant was the target of another bomb attack.

In a May 31 press release, CPJ condemned the bombing and called on northern Cypriot "authorities" to launch an investigation and bring the perpetrators to justice.

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