Last Updated 14 September 2018

The Republic of Cyprus is a sovereign island state in southeastern Europe. Situated in the Mediterranean Sea, it is located close to Turkey (north), Syria and Lebanon (east), Israel (south east), Egypt (south) and Greece (west).

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

Although the constitution doesn’t specifically make reference to secularism, it guarantees freedom of thought, religion and expression. While these are generally upheld, there are indications of some special privileges afforded to religious groups, de facto blasphemy laws present within the criminal code and some reports of societal discrimination based on religious belief. Article 18 of the constitution explicitly states that “every person has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”.

Privileged groups

In spite of this, article 110 affords the autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus along with the Vakf, an Islamic institution, exclusive rights in which neither the legislature, executive or administrative functions of the government are permitted to interfere with their activities. No other religious groups are afforded an equivalent level of societal privilege. These institutions, alongside the three other religious denominations recognised within the constitution (Maronite Catholics, Armenian Orthodox, Roman Catholics) are exempt from tax (except when engaging in strictly commercial activities). All receive significant subsidies and financial assistance from the state. This financial assistance is not for the purpose of propagating these religions per se, but generally allocated for construction work, repairs and upkeep of churches, monasteries, mosques, cemeteries etc.

There are some reports of social tensions between those of the Orthodox and Islamic faith resulting in vandalism and desecration of some mosques, however the government has always been quick to secure and fund timely restoration.

Other religious groups are able to register as non-profit organizations and are granted tax exempt status, but are not eligible for the allocation of any governmental financial support.

Education and children’s rights

Greek Orthodox religious instruction is provided as standard within the education system, but provisions for opting out are available. According to Freedom House, there are some reports of school text books containing negative or prejudiced language when referring to Turkey or Turkish Cypriots.

Family, community and society

Twenty-four months of military service is compulsory for adult males in the Greek Cypriot community that are over 18 years of age. Members of the Turkish Cypriot community are not conscripted. There have been problems with abiding by international guidelines regarding the right to conscientious objection; objectors are exempt from active military duty but are obliged to perform reservist duties and those who refuse to do so are often charged with insubordination. The Jehovah’s Witnesses allege that this policy is discriminatory because their faith does not permit them to take up arms or perform reservist exercises.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

The state provides unrestricted access to the internet, and there is a strong level of political and press freedom. Non-governmental organizations, human rights organizations and trade unions operate without impediment or governmental interference.

De facto “blasphemy” law

Although article 19 of the constitution states that “every person has the right to freedom of speech and expression in any form”, sections 141-142 of the Cypriot Criminal Code seem to contradict this guarantee by enacting a de facto blasphemy law in which it is an offence to essentially insult religions:

“Any person who with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any person, or makes any gestures in the sight of that person, or places any object in the sight of that person, is guilty of a misdemeanor and is liable to imprisonment for one year.

“…Any person who publishes a book or pamphlet or any article or letter in a newspaper or periodical which any class of persons consider as a public insult to their religion, with intent to vilify such religion or to shock or insult believers in such religion is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

— Articles 141 and 142, Cyprus Criminal Code

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