A court in northern Cyprus on Thursday acquitted two journalists who had faced up to five years in prison on charges of insulting and defaming Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, AFP reported.
Şener Levent, editor of the Turkish-language Afrika daily, was on trial along with reporter Ali Osman Tabak for “insulting a foreign leader” after the newspaper published a cartoon showing a Greek statue urinating on Erdoğan’s head.
The cartoon first appeared online at the time of Erdoğan’s 2017 visit to Greece, and Afrika later published it with the caption “Seen through Greek eyes.”
But Judge Cenkay İnan told a packed courtroom in northern Nicosia that the image “did not constitute an insult.”
He said that by publishing the cartoon, Afrika was reporting the feelings of some Greeks after meetings between the Turkish and Greek leaders.
He also noted several rulings by the European Court of Human Rights, which has acquitted journalists of alleged “insults” to politicians, citing freedom of expression.
“Erdoğan lost and we won,” Levent told AFP as he left the courtroom.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-backed coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece.
Levent, a vocal opponent of Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), called the court verdict “an important milestone for real independence against Turkey.”
“Turkey cannot do here what it does in Turkey,” he said.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomed Thursday’s ruling, saying the charges had “sent a very disturbing signal to northern Cypriot journalists as a whole.”
But it pointed out that Levent also faces trial over an article he wrote criticizing a Turkish military operation against a Kurdish enclave in northern Syria.
Erdoğan responded at the time by calling on Ankara’s “brothers in north Cyprus to give the necessary response.”
The following day, a crowd of ultranationalists attacked the offices of Afrika — a tiny daily with a 1,500 circulation in a statelet of around 300,000 people — as Turkish Cypriot police stood back and watched.