The deportation of Turkish fashion designer Barbaros Sansal – an outspoken critic of the regime in Turkey – from the north this week, heightened fears that Justice and Development Party AKP’s clamp-down on freedom of expression is expanding to Cyprus.
Sansal’s deportation – officially based on a drug offence he committed 1.5 years ago – came at a time when he was targeted by conservative and nationalist circles in Turkey and the north because of his tweets.
Sansal, who had been living in the northern part of Cyprus in the last couple of years, has been tweeting harsh criticism of the regime in Turkey.
The fashion designer, who was attacked by an angry mob on his arrival in Turkey, was immediately detained and later arrested for “insulting the Turkish nation, and the Turkish state” and “inciting hatred and enmity”.
“Barbaros Sansal’s deportation taught us that this place is not immune,” said political scientist Umut Bozkurt.
“It is the backyard of a ‘motherland’ where an increasingly authoritarian party that has suspended democracy is in power. Barbaros Sansal’s deportation shows us that the fascistic oppression wave may hit us.”
It was revealed that on the day of Sansal’s deportation, eight people had filed a complaint with the Nicosia police station against Sansal for insulting the Turkish state.
A statement by the head of the Turkish Cypriot interior office, Kutlu Evren, on the incident, gave the signal that the deportation was related to the fashion designer’s comments on social media. Although Evren stated that Sansal was deported due to his drug offence, he added: “We could not have allowed [Sansal] to take advantage of the tolerant and pro-freedom climate here, and make extreme statements against and attack motherland Turkey at a time it is going through a critical and painful period.”
A day before his deportation, a Turkish newspaper’s correspondent in the north, who has close connections with the coalition, had tweeted: “This despicable man, who swears at Turkey, is living in the north. He is being protected when he needs to be expelled for drugs. Who is protecting him?”
Sansal has come under particular attack since New Year’s Eve, because of a video he shared in which he suggested people in Turkey had nothing to celebrate about when the arrest of journalists, abuse of children and nepotism in the country continued.
He also referred to the time difference between the north and the south, saying this was a result of “Turkey’s domineering of the north”.
“I am celebrating in the north now. In a while, I will go to Nicosia, where I will celebrate again … You can continue celebrating in your filth and disgrace. Turkey, may you drown in your own s**t,” he concluded.
Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci made a statement on Sansal’s deportation condemning the lynching attempt at the airport.
“I see with concern that the seeds of a culture of hatred, animosity and lynching, are being sown in our country,” said Akinci.
“I also see that a dangerous tension is brewing between those with different opinions lately. Political lynching is a burden too heavy for this country to shoulder.”
Over 12,000 people have signed an online campaign launched by a group of Turkish Cypriots in support of Sansal and against the suppression of freedom of expression.
“The deportation of Barbaros Sansal clearly and openly shows that our country is under a serious threat with regards to human rights and freedoms,” said the non-governmental organisation Dayanisma (Solidarity) in a statement.
“This incident is not only about Barbaros Sansal, but also about what will happen to human rights and freedoms in this country… Unless we organise and raise our voices, we will become weaker in the face of this fascist entity and watch our basic rights and freedoms being taken away from us.”
Meanwhile, there are rumours that Turkey demanded the deportation of some 400 Turkish nationals living in the north, for criticising the AKP government on social media recently.
“We have a very difficult period ahead,” said Umut Bozkurt. “We don’t have the luxury to stay silent. We will either raise our voices, reclaim this country and struggle for democracy, human rights and basic rights and freedoms, or we will surrender this country to the mercy of oppression, conservatism and authoritarianism until it becomes unrecognisable.”