Fresh attack on freedom of speech in north

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Authorities in the Turkey-occupied north are not backing down in curbing the freedom of speech, as a Turkish Cypriot cartoonist and columnist faces prosecution for satirising the establishment.

Mahmut Anayasa, a well-known fierce critic of the regime in the north and Turkey, is being prosecuted by the chief of the police force in the north, Ahmet Soyalan, over a satirical article he wrote.

Soyalan also filed a complaint against Ozgur Gazete (Free Newspaper) for publishing the article.

In the article, Anayasa lambasted the corrupt establishment in the north and its links with people in high places.

The article described the relationship between the former head of the ruling coalition in the north, Faiz Sucuoglu and Soyalan as one between a football manager and his player.

Turkish Cypriot journalists have pushed back an attempt by authorities to limit the free press by introducing laws that essentially prohibit anyone from criticising the Turkish Cypriot leader or Turkey.

Following a 24-hour demo outside the Turkish Cypriot assembly in the north, the ruling coalition said the contentious issue would be re-examined.

On Monday, tens of Turkish Cypriot journalists staged a protest within the assembly, sticking black tape over their mouths.

While most politicians sided with the journalists, the speaker of the assembly, and a member of the ruling National Unity Party, Zorlu Tore, ordered security to eject the demonstrators.

Security refused to do so as the journalists were sitting in their designated seats, keeping quiet with their mouths taped.

The bills prohibit journalists, academics, or anyone in a position of power from criticising the Turkish Cypriot leader or Turkey as part of the financial aid protocol made between the regime in the occupied north and Turkey.

The proposed legislation is a condition for Turkey to inject €240 mln into the north’s economy within the next 12 months.

Talking to the Cyprus News Agency, Anayasa said the timing of his trial is of “grave importance”.

“Our trial was announced shortly after the visit of Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and the mobilisation of Turkish Cypriot journalists to defend freedom of expression.

“I have been writing opinion articles for many years. The security forces had at some point filed a case, accusing me of alienating the people from the army”.

However, as he noted, that trial was quickly terminated, noting the intervention of Greek Cypriot MEPs in the European Parliament played a role.

He said the late Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, known for his tight rule over the community, “had a sense of humour and did not bother with such cases”.

Anayasa believes the Turkish Cypriot community is entering ‘dark times’, with developments being dictated by a power centre.

“It is no coincidence that the bills currently being debated limit freedom of speech, including on social media.

“I believe that pressures received on Turkish Cypriots will intensify. This development may be related to the elections in Turkey.”