Media freedom in Northern Cyprus: The Sener Levent case


Turkish Cypriot daily Afrika reported on 30 August 2015 that the Turkish military forces in Cyprus had accused the paper of being against “the army and the flag”. Afrika’s articles had allegedly offended Turkish forces and made “people alienated from the army”, according to the case.

Editor-in-chief Sener Levent and writer Mahmut Anayasa, both of whom had shared an Afrika article from July on social media, were called to the prosecutor’s office for questioning. According to Costas Mavridis, a Greek Cypriot Member of the European Parliament, this is not the first time Levent has faced accusations. Both were later released.

After the questioning of Levent and Anayasa, Mavridis asked the European Commission about what actions are to be taken in order to protect the two European citizens.

“This action is clearly against human rights, specifically freedom of expression,” Mavridis said. He added that the only way for them to be safe is by making their case known to international and European public opinion, which is why he is proposing that Levent should be the Cypriot candidate for the European Citizen Prize 2015. “Sener Levent’s uninterrupted struggle for freedom of expression is a brave stance in favour of fundamental principles of the European culture at the risk of his life,” Mavridis said.

Yurdakul Cafer from the Association of Turkish Cypriot Journalists, speaking to Index on Censorship, stressed that, “media and the press in Northern Cyprus enjoy freedom of expression to a large degree”.

Before the opening of Afrika, Levent was to be the editor-in-chief of one of the first pro-European newspapers in Northern Cyprus, Avrupa, which means “Europe” in Turkish. According to a statement by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) from November 2000, the daily Avrupa was firebombed. “Extensive damage was caused and the printing house is no longer operating,” according to statement.

The IFJ had also noted that the attack “followed a period of court fines and official harassment designed to try to close down the newspaper”. Levent and other journalists were at the centre of these legal measures. As a result, the newspaper folded and was replaced by Afrika few years later.

The 2014 Freedom House report states that overall the situation of the media in Northern Cyprus is “free”. “Some media outlets are openly critical of the government,” it writes, although “in recent years some journalists who espouse anti-government positions were physically attacked, apparently by members of nationalist groups”.

“There were no such incidents in 2013,” the report concluded.

Cafer, who is also a news editor at Bayrak Radio Television, said that “despite Ankara’s strong political and military presence in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Turkish Cypriot newspapers, TV and radio stations are exceptionally democratic and open to discuss sensitive public, social and economic issues”.

The 2015 World Press Freedom Index placed the territory at 76 for media freedom in the world. Cyprus was ranked 24 in the world for press freedom. Turkey, which Northern Cyprus depends on, ranked 149 and continues to have high levels of violations against media, according to verified reports logged to Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom project.

Cafer said that Levent “was taken to court on charges of espionage but the charges brought against him were not for what he wrote,” adding that “he has been released”. “If there is no trial or if you are not jailed then I don’t think that’s persecution. There is no pressure or persecution in TRNC,” Cafer said, claiming that a lot has changed since the 1996 assassination of Kutlu Adali.

Adali, a journalist for the Northern Cypriot newspaper Yeni Duzen, was fatally shot outside his home. According to Mavridis, before Adali’s assassination he had announced his willingness to reveal some facts about the government’s immigration policies, specifically the Turkish settlers in Northern Cyprus. “Adali’s murder was a dark chapter in this country’s history, but there is no other incident like this one and that Turkey or TRNC does not exist anymore,” Cafer told Index on Censorship.

Overall, Cafer is optimistic about the future of media freedom in Northern Cyprus, while he points out that “the biggest problem and threat to peace and reconciliation in Cyprus” could be “online media”. “Many online news outlets,” he explained, “have popped up and many of them disregard the main principles of journalism or any code of ethics, spreading misinformation or doing more harm than good. I think we need more legislation that protects good journalism, not legislation that curtails freedoms,” he concluded.

However, Mavridis, using a phrase from another Turkish Cypriot journalist, who was prosecuted and threatened many times in the past, stresses that “even when a bird flies in Northern Cyprus, it’s with the permission or the tolerance of the manager of the Turkish occupying forces”.


Mapping Media Freedom

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This article was posted on 18 November 2015 at

Cyprus: Police confiscate photos of Greek trans activist

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The empty walls following the confiscation of Paola Revenioti’s work (Photo: Accept)

Gay rights NGO Accept-Cyprus LGBT has slammed police censorship, after photographs of the Greek trans activist Paola Revenioti were confiscated and its chairman charged with exhibiting obscene material in a public space. Revenioti’s photo exhibition “Diorthosi” (Correction) was staged at Nicosia Municipal Market to mark Transgender Day on 20 November.

“This incident, unfortunately, was not something that surprised me. Censorship of art still exists in our so-called ‘democratic’ society,” Revenioti told Index on Censorship.

“Although this confiscation brought the issue of censorship to the forefront, which is a good thing, it overshadowed the essence of the exhibition, kept people away from the project. This is scandalous. Art is the way every one communicates his own truth. And with this action, they have vulgarised my own truth,” she stressed.

The exhibition, part of a series of events organised the NGO, was seized following a complaint by a citizen who disagreed with the content of the photographs which depicts life through the lens of Revenioti. Police acted without informing the municipality of Nicosia, which had licensed the space of the market for this exhibition, or the organisers, Accept said.

Costa Gavrielides, president of Accept, was questioned and officially charged with “publication of lewd content” in public space. Some of the photos eventually were returned, and others that depict male nudity were withheld as evidence for the subsequent trial.

The NGO filed an official complaint regarding the incident to the national anti-discrimination body, the Office of the Ombudsperson, and will further make a formal complaint to the local authorities as well as the European Parliament and the European Commission.

The Nicosia Municipal Arts Centre condemned the action as an “overt form of censorship” that affects the artistic community of Cyprus.

“The police acted in a legal way,” was the response from police spokesperson Andreas Angelides.

This article was published on 26 November 2014 at

Index Index

What is the Index Index? The Index Index is a pilot project that uses innovative machine learning techniques to map the free expression landscape across the globe to gain a clearer country-by-country view of the state of free expression across academic, digital and...

Attacks on journalists covering protests increase says new report

Physical attacks on journalists have increased dramatically over the past year, according to the latest annual report from the Council of Europe Platform on media freedom in Europe.

The platform, of which Index on Censorship is a partner, reports on serious threats to the safety of journalists and media freedom in Europe in order to reinforce the Council of Europe’s response to the threats and member states’ accountability.

The new report, Defending Press Freedom in Times of Tension and Conflict, reveals that the number of cases involving the safety and physical integrity of journalists has jumped by 51% year-on-year, with 82 cases reported to the platform.

Many of the attacks on journalists have taken place during public protests.

“Violence against journalists during street protests is fed by a wave of media bashing and an avalanche of hate speech on social networks – very often prompted by political figures – which directly target journalists, questioning their independence and legitimacy and therefore making them more vulnerable to physical aggression,” the report says.

Overall, the number of alerts in all categories published by the CoE platform has sky-rocketed to 280 in 2021, up from around 200 in 2020 and more than double the level reported in 2016. Of the 280 alerts, 110 related to the harassment and intimidation of journalists.

Index’s policy and campaigns manager Jessica Ní Mhainín

Speaking at the launch of the report, Index’s policy and campaigns manager Jessica Ní Mhainín highlighted cases of impunity in CoE’s report.

“Impunity for crimes against journalists refer to failure of states to identify, prosecute and punish anyone including the assailants and masterminds involved in committing a crime against a journalist,” she said. “Cultures of impunity contribute to self-censorship by making journalists more vulnerable to pressures out of fear of reprisals or harm.”

Some 35 cases of impunity have been registered on the platform since 2015 and two new impunity cases – those of Turkish journalist Uğur Mumcu, murdered in 1993, and Turkish-Cypriot journalist Kutlu Adalı, murdered in Cyprus in 1996 – were added to the impunity category during the year.

“In 2021, we welcomed the Slovak Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the not-guilty verdicts of the suspected masterminds of the 2018 murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová. The case will be heard in the Specialized Criminal Court later this year,” said Ní Mhainín.

Last year also saw the publication of a 438 page-report from the public inquiry into the assassination  of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, which concluded that the state of Malta “must bear responsibility for the assassination because it created an atmosphere of impunity”.

“We once again call on the Maltese authorities and the Commission of Experts to implement the recommendations of the Public Inquiry,” said Ní Mhainín.

Russia, Turkey and Ukraine account for 60% of all the cases relating to impunity on the platform. Last October marked the 15th anniversary of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya’s murder.

Ní Mhainín said, “The masterminds of her murder are still at large, sending the incredibly dangerous message that killing a journalist is a low-risk crime.”

Yet impunity is not restricted to these countries.

A BBC Spotlight investigation has uncovered serious concerns over the police investigation and the failure to prosecute those behind the murder of Irish journalist Martin O’Hagan, who was killed in September 2001 for his reporting on paramilitary activities in Northern Ireland. The concerns raised in the programme, which aired on 2 March 2022, came in the wake of several Police Ombudsman reports that uncovered collusive behaviour between the police and loyalists in Northern Ireland. According to the BBC’s investigation, police did not act on important information – including individual names – that were handed over to them within 48 hours of the murder. The journalist’s family are now taking legal action against the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the Ministry of Defence.

“Press freedom is the canary in the coal mine – it is a key indicator of the clear and worrying degree of democratic backsliding that is taking place across Europe,” said Ní Mhainín. “That’s why we once again call on Council of Europe member states to ensure that the highest priority is given to conducting thorough and transparent investigations into all crimes against journalists and we remind member states of the 2016 Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers which requires states ‘adopt appropriate criminal law provisions to prevent impunity’”