Vienna, October 12, 2023
Our Media Freedom representative Kyriakos Pierides, based in Nicosia, writes:
After four years, the Turkish Cypriot High Court has finally announced the pending decision about the notorious “Caricature Case” against journalists Şener Levent and Ali Osman. The High Court has approved the lower court’s acquittal decision of May 16, 2019.
After the first verdict, the Attorney General’s office appealed to the High Court which yesterday announced its approval of the acquittal. Şener Levent faced two different cases for the same caricature, one in Ankara, and one in Nicosia.
The so-called “Caricature” collage was published in Afrika newspaper (now renamed Avrupa or Europe) on December 8, 2017, captioned “as seen through Greek eyes”. It depicted an ancient Greek statue urinating on the head of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan; there is a Greek national flag in the background.
Erdoğan filed a lawsuit against Şener and his paper in Ankara. The Turkish Criminal Court tried him in absentia and sentenced him to a year in prison for “insulting the President”. The penalty was converted into a judicial fine.
In Turkish Cyprus, the Attorney General’s office also filed a lawsuit against the paper, but the higher court in Nicosia acquitted them on May 16, 2019 – the decision that has now been approved. Levent and his newspaper have faced a number of lawsuits, mainly on charges of defamation and libel for many years now.
SG Edward Steen points out: This decision is to be welcomed. But the sunlit uplands for press freedom in Turkey in general are not easy to discern, as the gloomy cartoon depicting Erdogan’s election victory in May 2023 suggests. Merdan Yanardağ, editor-in-chief of Turkish broadcaster TELE1, has just been released from prison. He said hundreds of innocent people remain behind bars, wrongfully convicted over their supposed connection to the attempted coup against Erdogan in 2016.