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IPI expresses concern over brutal attack on Turkish Cypriot journalist

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is a 22 October 2003 IPI letter to Rauf Raif Denktash, president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus:

H.E. Rauf Raif Denktash
President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus
Office of the President

Fax: +90 392 22 78 516

Vienna, 22 October 2003

Your Excellency,

The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives, and leading journalists in over 115 countries, is greatly concerned about the brutal attack on the Turkish Cypriot journalist Murat Kanatli, editor of the opposition newspaper Yenicag, on 17 October 2003.

Yenicag is a weekly newspaper published in the Northern part of Cyprus by the YBH (Patriotic Unity Movement). The YBH is critical of the regime in the North of Cyprus and has recently also taken Turkey to the European Court of Human Rights for changing the demographic structure of the northern part of the island by illegally conferring Cypriot citizenship to tens of thousands of people from Turkey.

According to information provided to IPI, Kanatli was attacked by a group of 20-30 persons belonging to the Grey Wolves (Ulku Ocaklari) Association, soon after having covered their demonstration in Lefkosa (Nicosia) to "protest the intervention of EU and USA in TRNC elections". During the demonstration the Grey Wolves stopped at the US Embassy to protest and chanted anti-EU slogans in favour of Turan (the grand Turkish homeland) on their way back to the Lefkosa centre of their association. Kanatli had gone to the headquarters of the Grey Wolves where a representative gave a speech to the media organisations in attendance. In his capacity as Yenicag editor and reporter, Kanatli photographed the event. On his way back to the newspaper's offices, Kanatli was brutally kicked and hit on the head and shoulders by members of the Grey Wolves who also took away his digital camera.

Members of the police force witnessed the events without taking action, but questioned Kanatli at length about his reasons for going to the Grey Wolves' headquarters and taking photographs there. After Kanatli filed a police complaint against Grey Wolves Association members who had beaten him up and taken his belongings, the police recovered his camera, but with the memory card missing from it.

According to IPI sources the attack was allegedly carried out under the supervision of Erhan Arikli, who is wanted by Interpol for murder. Arikli, who is presently the General Secretary of MAP (the Nationalist Justice Party), also seems to be the leader of the Grey Wolves, and there are indications that he directed the demonstration as well as the attack on Kanatli on 17 October.

Kemal Darbaz, Head of the Press Workers Union in Northern Cyprus, reacted to the events by asking the police for support to find the aggressors. In a press release he stated that the attack on Kanatli "is a result of certain circles who have been exploiting the 'Turkish vs. Cypriot distinction'" and that they have been trying to pull the struggle of the Turkish Cypriot public for a solution on EU membership towards other directions. The attack was a provocation aiming at diverting the public attention, Darbaz emphasised, and said "police should not take this lightly but consider it as a major event".

IPI is deeply concerned about the developing situation of violations of press freedom in the Turkish Cypriot community and urges the authorities to identify and punish those responsible, so that the lives of journalists in the Turkish Cypriot community remain protected.

A Turkish Cypriot journalist, Kutlu Adali, was killed in the year 1996. In the same year Grey Wolves members killed Tassos Isaac, a Greek Cypriot civilian, on the Green Line following the orders of Erhan Arikli, who is wanted by Interpol for that reason. Arikli allegedly led the demonstration and attack against Kanatli on 17 October. With threatening comments, Arikli has been leading a psychological terror campaign against journalists defending peace in the media, openly announcing his intentions to "torture and kill" journalists in favour of peace in Cyprus.

Due to threats issued by the Grey Wolves Association, the Near East University in Nicosia had to cancel a recent event where the Turkish writer, Mehmet Altan, would have spoken about the Cyprus problem. Altan has been writing articles about the topic for the mainstream Turkish media, expressing criticism of the regime in the North Cypriot region. Furthermore, on 5 October, the Grey Wolves staged a demonstration against the critically oriented newspaper Afrika, shouting death threats in front of the newspaper's offices in Nicosia.

With the above in mind, IPI condemns this latest violation of press freedom and urges you to work with the media to create an environment in the Turkish Cypriot community that allows journalists to exercise their profession free of harassment.

We thank you for your attention.

Yours sincerely,

Johann P. Fritz

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