* Death by a thousand tweets *
By Fiona Mullen
The most disconcerting aspect of the arrest of former finance minister Michalis Sarris last Thursday is not the fact that it was done on the basis of antiquated Turkish Cypriot laws on homosexuality, nor the uncanny timing chosen by the Turkish Cypriot police to raid a private house without an arrest warrant when they rarely bother raiding casinos known for female prostitution.
The real and longlasting damage done to Sarris is the scandalous speed with which so many people I know believed and spread the unsubstantiated rumours about—well I don’t want to add grist to the rumour mill—so suffice it to say that it is the difference between being a perfectly respectable human being in any other western democracy and being the kind of criminal that even the biggest card-carrying liberals would have difficulty tolerating.
We all love to gossip. But to spread “news” about something deadly serious, to smear so casually a person’s name forever when we do not actually have the facts to hand, is the true scandal here.
So let’s try to get some of our facts straight. Here are some of the reports I heard from the lawyers outside the courthouse on Monday.
The three arrested on Thursday were 60-something (Sarris), 30-something and 17. The age of consent for girls in the north is 16.
The other street boys arrested by the police afterwards, when they were trying to build a more serious case to accuse Sarris of organising sex crimes, were younger, the youngest being 14.
When asked if they had had sex with Sarris, they replied that they had had sex with each other.
One of the defence lawyers also accused the police of beating some of the boys into confession. The judge ordered a physical examination and the results have not yet been made public, so we do not yet know if the accusations are true.
One Turkish Cypriot suggested that the reason the police tried to make a more serious case was because they did not realise until after the arrest that they had caught “a big fish”, so rather than suffer the embarrassment of jailing someone just for homosexual sex, they had to scrabble for more serious charges. We shall probably never know if that theory is true.
None of the Turkish Cypriots I spoke to had heard of any prior arrest, as alleged in a Greek Cypriot newspaper.
If two males have sex with each other in the north, they are guilty of an “unnatural act”, regardless of their age. So one catchall law covers homosexuals and paedophiles. It is no wonder that people so easily conflate the two.
Nor does the law really protect anyone. As a group of Turkish Cypriot NGOs led by the Initiative Against Homophobia declared on Monday, “The current law in effect does not protect the rights of the children nor the rights of people’s control over their own bodies. It aims to protect the ‘morality’ of the society.”
They are calling for a full overhaul of the law that “supports equality and freedom”.
I am not saying that Sarris is a monk. But until the trial is over and the facts have all been established, it is only fair that we reserve our judgement—both on the conduct of Sarris and on the conduct of the Turkish Cypriot police.
It is what we would hope from others if we ever found ourselves banged up in jail in a place where we don’t speak the language.
So let’s spread the facts, not the fiction.
Unfortunately, regardless of what the Turkish Cypriot court finds, it is probably all too late for Sarris.
Thanks to the nasty rumour mill, Sarris’s reputation has suffered death by a thousand tweets.
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