Journalists Sener Levent and Ali Osman Tabak have today, been acquitted of insulting a foreign leader.
A case was brought against Levent, owner of Turkish Cypriot daily ‘Afrika’ and journalist working for ‘Afrika’, Tabak, after the newspaper published a cartoon deemed to be offensive to President Erdogan.
The cartoon, which had originally been published in a Greek national newspaper in 2017, at the time of Erdogan’s visit to Greece, depicts a Greek statue urinating on the head of the Turkish president. and Afrika later published it with the caption “seen through Greek eyes”.
In January 2018, after its publication in the TRNC, Turkish President Erdogan called on “his brothers in the TRNC to do what is necessary”. Following which, the premises of ‘Afrika’ were vandalised and the two journalists were trapped in the building. Six men were received jail sentences in February for the attack.
In the final court hearing, Levent and Tabak were also acquitted of a second charge – “inciting hatred against a foreign leader with the aim of spoiling the friendly and peaceful relations between the two countries” – meaning Turkey and North Cyprus.
The judge told a packed courtroom that the image “did not constitute an insult”. His announcement brought thunderous applause.
By publishing the cartoon, the judgement added, the paper was reporting the feelings of some Greeks after meetings between Turkish and Greek leaders.
The court also cited rulings by the European Court of Human Rights, which has acquitted journalists over alleged “insults” to politicians, and noted that satire is part of free speech.
After the hearing the two journalist were welcomed by a large crowd in the courtyard, while Sener Levent evaluated the court’s decision.
In a press statement he said that the case was opened about one year ago and the proceedings have been ongoing for eight months.
“This decision is, I believe is a historical and very important decision”, said Levent. “Had the same trial taken place in Turkey, the outcome would have been very different”, he said.
“But, this is Cyprus, we are Cypriots, citizens of the Republic of Cyprus and of the EU. We are not in Turkey here. Erdogan lost and we won”, Levent told foreign press as he left the courtroom.