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Turkish Cypriot journalists face prosecution in Ankara over Erdogan criticism

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By Emma Beswick
Turkish Cypriot journalists face prosecution in Ankara over Erdogan criticism

Two Turkish Cypriot journalists face charges in Turkey over criticism of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime after their case fell through in Cyprus.

Editor-in-chief of Afrika newspaper Sener Levent and reporter Ali Osman are accused of “disrespect for the Republic of Turkey”, “publishing embarrassing statements” and “actions against Turkey”, according to CNA (Cyprus News Agency).

In January, Afrika published a headline referring to the Afrin offensive that read "Another Turkish occupation", comparing Turkish military operations in Syria to the occupation of the northern part of Cyprus in 1974.

President Erdoğan reacted angrily calling the newspaper "vulgar" and called on his “brothers in northern Cyprus to give the necessary response”.

A mob subsequently attacked Afrika's offices in the occupied part of Nicosia, smashing windows and pulling down the newspaper's sign on the building.

Afrika's offices after the attack

The Cypriot government has referred the attempted prosecution to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the EU, spokesman Prodromos Prodromou said in a written statement Wednesday.

“This concerns citizens of an EU member state, on whom a third country has no jurisdiction,” Prodromou said. He added that the European Parliament was “closely monitoring the case”.

The European Commission Thursday told CNA that it was aware that criminal proceedings had been initiated in Turkey against Levent, Osman and Afrika.

It also said the harassment and intimidation of journalists constitutes a violation of freedom of expression, which is safeguarded under the European Convention on Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, according to CNA.

Head of the European Parliament Office in Cyprus, Andreas Kettis, said he conveyed a "personal message of solidarity" on behalf of President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani when in a meeting with Sener Levent.

"Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are fundamental EU values. All Cypriot MEPs stand by Sener Levent," he added in a Twitter post.

Afrika ran the headline "Red card to Ankara in Cyprus" on Wednesday as it reported on the case and said it had triggered a “firestorm of support” in Europe and in the southern part of the island.

The newspaper also said Turkish Cypriot officials had remained silent in the face of Ankara’s action.

A number of journalists and academics expressed their unease on social media, saying they had cancelled trips to Turkey.

Other social media users demanded a response from the Turkish Cypriot leadership amid discussion over whether the jurisdiction of Turkish courts extends over Turkish Cypriots.

Cyprus was split when Turkish forces occupied the island’s north following a military coup in the south.

The de-facto government which has ruled the north since is recognised only by Turkey.