Freedom in the World
During 2010, President Demetris Christofias met regularly with the leader of Northern Cyprus, though no truly contentious issues were resolved. A media mogul was shot dead outside his home in January, allegedly by gunmen working for a disgruntled former presenter on one of his stations.
Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960 after a five-year guerrilla campaign by partisans demanding union with Greece. In July 1974, Greek Cypriot National Guard members, backed by Greece’s military junta, staged an unsuccessful coup aimed at such unification. Five days later, Turkey invaded from the north, seized control of 37 percent of the island, and expelled 200,000 ethnic Greeks from the portion it occupied. Today, the Greek and Turkish communities are almost completely separated in the south and north, respectively.
A buffer zone known as the Green Line has divided Cyprus, including the capital, since 1974. UN resolutions stipulate that Cyprus is a single country of which the northern third is illegally occupied. In 1983, Turkish-controlled Cyprus declared its independence, a move recognized only by Turkey.
Reunification talks accelerated after a more receptive Turkish government was elected in 2002, and a new pro-unification government was elected in Northern Cyprus in 2003. Then UN secretary general Kofi Annan led a round of negotiations that collapsed in 2004 after no consensus was reached. He subsequently proposed a plan that was put to a vote in April 2004 in simultaneous, separate referendums on both sides of the island. Ultimately, 76 percent of Greek Cypriots voted against the plan, while 65 percent of Turkish Cypriots voted in favor. With the island still divided, only Greek Cyprus joined the European Union (EU) as scheduled in May 2004.
In parliamentary elections held in the south in 2006, the Democratic Party (DIKO) won 11 seats, while the Democratic Rally (DISY) and the Progressive Party of the Working People (AKEL), a communist party, each took 18 seats; three small parties captured the remaining 9 seats. The 2004 referendum and the prospects for reunification were major campaign issues, and the results were considered a signal of support for President Tassos Papadopoulos of DIKO and his rejection of the UN plan. However, this sentiment was reversed in the 2008 presidential election, when AKEL leader Demetris Christofias won 53 percent of the runoff vote, making him the only communist head of state in Europe. His cabinet included ministers from DIKO as well as the Movement for Social Democrats (EDEK).
Christofias’s election paved the way for new reunification talks, and he met regularly with the Northern Cypriot leader. In September 2010, Christofias held a round of intensive talks with newly elected Northern Cypriot leader Derviş Eroğlu, focusing primarily on property issues. Symbolic progress was made in October when a seventh crossing point between the north and south was opened near the northwestern town of Limnitis, but no truly contentious issues were resolved. In November, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon convened talks with the two leaders himself and said he would follow up progress in January 2011.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties:
Cyprus is an electoral democracy. Suffrage is universal, and elections are free and fair.The president is elected by popular vote to serve a five-year term. The unicameral House of Representatives has 80 seats filled through proportional representation for five-year terms. A bloc of 24 seats are reserved for the Turkish Cypriot community, but they have not been occupied since Turkish Cypriot representatives withdrew from the chamber in 1964.
Following a 2004 ruling against Cyprus by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2004, a law was passed allowing Turkish Cypriots living in the south to vote and run for office in Greek Cypriot elections. About 390 such voters registered before the 2008 presidential election, up from 270 in 2006, when one also ran for a seat in the parliament. Turkish Cypriots cannot run for president, as the constitution states that a Greek Cypriot should hold that post and a Turkish Cypriot should be vice president.The Maronites (Catholics of Lebanese descent), Armenians, and Latins (Catholics of European descent) elect special nonvoting representatives. Women are very poorly represented, with only one woman in the cabinet and seven in the parliament.
Corruption is not a major problem in Cyprus, although several police corruption scandals were uncovered in 2009. Laws passed in 2008aimed to prevent conflicts of interest for government officials and criminalized the withholding of information on bribery in defense procurement. Cyprus was ranked 28 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index. Parliamentary hearings on freedom of information in May 2009 indicated that many legal requests for information are not fulfilled, mostly due to lack of resources.
Freedom of speech is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected. A vibrant independent press frequently criticizes the authorities, and several private television and radio stations compete effectively with public stations. Although Turkish Cypriot journalists can enter the south, Turkish journalists based in the north have reported difficulties crossing the border. In January 2010, Andis Hadjicostis, the owner of Cyprus’s largest media group, was shot and killed outside his home. The four people charged in the case included a well-known television presenter who allegedly hired the assassins after being fired from one of the victim’s stations. Access to the internet is unrestricted.
Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution and protected in practice. Nearly all inhabitants of the south are Orthodox Christians, and some discrimination against other religions has been alleged. In September 2009, more than 100 Muslims from rival sects clashed at a mosque in the capital. The police controversially arrested 150 people in a subsequent sweep; 36 were found to be illegal immigrants and faced deportation, while the remainder were released. State schools use textbooks containing negative language about Turkish Cypriots and Turkey.
Freedoms of association and assembly are respected. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) generally operate without government interference.Workers have the right to strike and to form trade unions without employer authorization.
The independent judiciary operates according to the British tradition, upholding due process rights. However, the ECHR ruled against Cyprus in 2009 for failure to provide a timely trial in a case that lasted nearly six years. The problem of indefinite detentions of asylum seekers has improved somewhat since the country’s ombudswoman filed complaints on the matter in 2008, but long-term detention of migrants continues. The Council of Europe and other groups have noted cases of police brutality, including targeted beatings of minorities.In March 2010, the Supreme Court ordered a retrial for eight of ten plainclothes officers who were acquitted in 2009 after being videotaped beating two students in 2005. Prison overcrowding has decreased but remains a problem.
A 1975 agreement between the two sides of the island governs treatment of minorities. Turkish Cypriots are now entitled to Republic of Cyprus passports, and thousands have obtained them. However, Turkish Cypriots in the south have reported difficulty obtaining identity cards and other documents, as well as harassment and discrimination. Asylum seekers face regular discrimination, especially in employment, and the local human rights group KISA has warned of racially motivated attacks, such as the firebombing of a Palestinian cultural center in April 2010. The country’s ombudswoman continues to highlight discrimination against homosexuals.
Since 2004, all citizens have been able to move freely throughout the island using a growing number of border crossings. While the Greek Cypriots have thwarted attempts to lift international trade and travel bans on the north, trade continues to increase between the two sides.
The status of property abandoned by those moving across the Green Line after the 1974 invasion is a point of contention in reunification talks. A 1991 law states that property left by Turkish Cypriots belongs to the state. Under the law in the north, Greek Cypriots can appeal to a property commission to resolve disputes. The government in the south does not recognize this commission, but in March 2010 it was recognized by the ECHR as an adequate local authority for the resolution of property disputes between the north and south.
Gender discrimination in the workplace, sexual harassment, and violence against women are problems.Local NGOs reported in 2009 that 80,000 Greek Cypriot women are subject to domestic violence, as well as an additional 30,000 immigrant women.While the government has made genuine progress in preventing human trafficking and launched a new antitrafficking plan in 2010, Cyprus remains a transit and destination country, and prosecution is weak. Cases of slave labor have been occasionally uncovered in Cyprus. In November 2009, police freed 110 Romanian workers from a camp where they were allegedly being forced to work without pay.
The numerical ratings and status listed here do not reflect conditions in Northern Cyprus, which is examined in a separate report.
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)