Cyprus

Last Updated 27 October 2020

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). The Republic of Cyprus is a democracy that has de jure sovereignty over the entire island. In practice, however, the government controls only the southern, largely Greek-speaking part of the island, as the northern area is ruled by the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Turkey.

 
Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

Although the Constitution1https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Cyprus_2013.pdf?lang=en does not 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.2religiousfreedom.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=200&Itemid=29; books.google.co.uk/books/about/Religion_and_Law_in_Cyprus.html?id=lConiWXuPMgC&redir_esc=y

Three recognized Christian minorities—the Armenians, the Latins, and the Maronites—each have one nonvoting representative in the parliament. Members of these minority groups vote in special elections for their representatives, as well as in the general elections.3https://freedomhouse.org/country/cyprus/freedom-world/2020

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.

The government recognizes Muslim religious institutions and facilitates crossings at the UN buffer zone between north and south for the purpose of worship at religious sites. Muslim groups have occasionally faced obstacles in the operation of their religious sites. Other religious minorities sometimes encounter discrimination.4https://freedomhouse.org/country/cyprus/freedom-world/2020

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 Non-Christian Orthodox individuals to opt 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.5https://freedomhouse.org/country/cyprus/freedom-world/2020

Family, community and society

Fourteen 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.6wri-irg.org/node/13264; amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/cyprus-conscientious-objector-status-must-be-amended

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.7https://freedomhouse.org/country/cyprus/freedom-world/2020

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

Highlighted cases

In September 2020, teacher and painter, George Gavriel, was placed under investigation by the Ministry of Education following complaints about his paintings, which some – including Archbishop Chrysostomos – deemed to be derogatory of religion.8https://www.financialmirror.com/2020/09/17/teacher-under-fire-for-irreverent-artwork/; https://cyprus-mail.com/2020/09/27/art-uproar-shows-ditching-blasphemy-law-long-overdue/ Some of his artworks, which he describes as anti-establishment, 9www.facebook.com/george.gavrielpainter are religion-themed with one depicting a naked Jesus and another a dog urinating on the archbishop.

Maria Stylianou Lottidis, the Commissioner for Administration and the Protection of Human Rights, reportedly agreed with those who object to his paintings stating that Gavriel had “exceeded the limits to which freedom of expression is subject by law, and infringed the rights of others through his art.[…] Because of his unique role of both teacher and artist, Gavriel has failed to take into account the impact of his work, using Christ to shock, provoke and anger a considerable amount of people in Cyprus.” 10https://daily-cyprus.com/2020/09/18/protesters-out-on-the-streets-in-support-of-controversial-art-teacher/

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