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Sunday, April 23, 2006

Cypriot journalist fears legal action from Ankara

On Tuesday, i had mentioned that Turkey's chief prosecutor is seeking charges against Mr. Serhat Incirli, a columnist for the Turkish Cypriot daily AFRIKA, for insulting the Turkish Republic. Here is an update to this story from the Cyprus Weekly. Please note: There is a misprint in this article. The article states Kutlu Adali died on July 6, 1006. His real date of death was on July 6, 1996.

Update: The Cyprus Weekly misprint has been corrected. Below is the full article in its entirety.

Turkey riled over columnists criticism of double standards over Cyprus and the Kurds

By Menelaos Hadjicostis

Ankara is set to drag a Turkish Cypriot columnist before a Turkish court in unprecedented legal action that may signal a “dangerous” escalation in the persecution of dissenting voices in the occupied north.

No formal charges have yet been laid against London-based columnist Serhat Incirli, 38, who writes for independent daily Afrika.

But Turkish Cypriot police have questioned Incirli’s parents at their home in the north, seeking the columnist’s London address and telephone numbers.

Turkish Cypriot ‘prime minister’ Ferdi Sabit Soyer confirmed to reporters Turkey’s Attorney General is preparing a case against Incirli.

He said Ankara wants to file charges against Incirli for two of his articles published in Afrika that were deemed as a “direct insult” to the Republic of Turkey.

If the trial does go ahead, it would be the first time that a Turkish Cypriot journalist is tried in a Turkish court – a development Incirli said would mark a “dangerous” turn in how Ankara suppresses dissent in the north.

Numerous Turkish Cypriot journalists charged in the past with insulting the Turkish state have had their case tried in Turkish proxy courts in the north.

Incirli implied Turkey’s return to hardball tactics in stifling domestic dissent could embolden extremist elements both on the mainland and occupied Cyprus to revert to targeted killings.

“Turkish Cypriots could be targetted for assassination,” Incirli told The Cyprus Weekly from his London office.

The most infamous case of a Turkish Cypriot journalist assassinated for his political views was that of Yeni Duzen columnist Kutlu Adali who was gunned down in front of his house in occupied Nicosia on July 6, 1996.

Moreover, Incirli suggested a precedent-setting trial would make Turkish Cypriots easier scapegoats for Ankara to vent its mounting frustration over Turkey’s increasingly troubled EU entry bid as it reaches boiling point.

Incirli said the trial would also lay bare a burgeoning rift between Ankara and the Turkish Cypriot community over Turkish policy as regards Cyprus reunification efforts.

“I always believed that Turkey wants to opposite of what the Turkish Cypriots want…A trial would show that Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots have no common interests,” said Incirli.

Incirli said he “had no idea” why Ankara is preparing to sue him, but he suspects it pertains to his harsh criticism of Turkey’s double standards over Cyprus and its own long-standing Kurdish problem.

He said Ankara openly favours the partition of Cyprus, but it quashes any discussion over Kurdish demands for heightened autonomy within its own borders.

“Turkey wants the division of Cyprus - they like it. But it’s hypocritical to want that and not talk about the rights of Kurds,” said occupied Pentayia-born Incirli.

Ankara’s legal backlash is likely owed to a hard swing to the right by the embattled administration of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan who’s under increasing pressure amid growing unrest among he country’s Kurdish minority and his Cyprus woes with the EU.

In a recent article, Newsweek International noted Erdogan’s “sharp lurch toward old-fashioned Turkish nationalism” in a bid to woo back young voters ahead of elections set for as early as this November.

The news magazine said Erdogan recently instructed senior officials from his Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP) “to play up nationalism” to get back voters increasingly disaffected with what they perceive EU meddling in Turkish domestic affairs.

Incirli said: “Nationalism is the worst illness in the world.”

Incirli – who said he has been “harassed” by Turkish officials through his entire 15-year professional career as a journalist – said he has learned Ankara is upset over two of his articles, but doesn’t know exactly which ones.

He said he faces his trip to the north this week for professional reasons with plenty of trepidation because he doesn’t know how he’s going to be treated by Turkish Cypriot ‘police’.

Incirli, who holds a Republic of Cyprus passport, pondered the legal ramifications of Turkey trying a citizen of an EU-member country it doesn’t recognise.

In an editorial, Afrika Editor-in-Chief Sener Levent asked whether Turkey would treat Incirli the same as it did famed Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk who was sued for insulting the state.

The Cyprus Journalists’ Union has dispatched protest letters to international journalists’ organisations demanding action to thwart the legal action against Incirli.

Levent, long a magnet for official persecution over his writings, was arrested in 2001 for allegedly spying for Greek Cypriots. He was set free following a global outcry.

Extremists have also targeted Afrika, with the paper’s printing press having been bombed twice. No one has ever been charged in connection with those bombings.

The extremist paramilitary group “Grey Wolves” has in the past issued numerous death threats against the paper’s writers.

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