A debate is brewing in Cyprus over privacy laws, in the wake of a shocking confession of a serial killer who admitted to multiple murders and allegations against the police for not doing enough to investigate missing cases of foreign women.
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The debate over privacy laws came as hundreds of people in the Republic of Cyprus protested outside the Presidential Palace on Friday evening, calling for the resignations of the justice minister and chief of police.
During the protest, the names of murdered women were read out loud and just before a moment of silence. Names of females who are still reported as missing were also read out loud, with cases dating as far back as 1990, as the crowd replied after each name by shouting “where is she?”
Law enforcement came under heavy criticism after serious allegations of mishandling missing cases of foreign women purportedly killed by a confessed serial killer, who was remanded in custody Saturday morning for another eight days on seven counts of murder.
At least eight female victims are believed to have been killed by a 35-year-old Greek Cypriot army captain, with the suspect reportedly confessing to seven murders in the south and at least another victim possibly attributed to him by Turkish Cypriot police in the north.
Police say their hands are tied
Police in the south, who are under heavy criticism for not doing enough to look into phone records and online data to investigate missing cases of foreign women, say their hands are tied due to privacy laws and restrictions.
Critics blame police for not looking into telecommunications data promptly that could have led to solving missing cases sooner and potentially prevent serious crimes. In one case, the decomposed body of a Filipina, 38-year-old Filipina Marry Rose Tiburcio, was found two weeks ago while reports said her friend had reported the woman and her child as missing on 5 May 2018 and gave information about the suspect who was only known as Orestis at the time.
The friend told cops that mother and child went to meet Orestis late at night on 4 May 2018 but did not return at a specific time the next day. She was said to have provided the suspect’s mobile number to police when she filed the missing case. Police officers reportedly dialed the phone number but did not follow up after realizing it had been turned off.
Cops say they need more tools
Police spokesperson Andreas Angelides dismissed some of the criticism, saying on Thursday that investigators ought to have access to phone records in missing cases, adding that parliament rejected a bill that would have allowed unrestricted access.
But according to the penal code in the Republic of Cyprus, police officers could obtain a court warrant for access to telecommunications data if they suspect a crime has been committed, including kidnapping.
Kyriacos Charalambous, the president of Cyprus police Association, disagrees with that interpretation. He told reporters earlier this week that police do not have the right to seek warrants in missing cases according to current legislation, saying that only “serious crimes” could warrant a basis for requesting detailed records from phone companies.
A “serious criminal offence” refers to a felony based on the penal code or any other law or an offence which carries a maximum sentence of at least five years. It was not clear how police legally assess information to arrive at a suspicion of a felony. Kidnapping is a crime that carries a maximum sentence of seven years in the Republic of Cyprus.
Connecting the dots
Police have been criticised for not connecting the dots, particularly after the Filipina friend of Marry Rose gave specific information about a possible suspect and not only her missing friend, but “could not prove” that the suspect actually kidnapped mother and child. Knews understands the disappearance case was filed as missing person with child.
While laws could prohibit law enforcement officers from going through a missing person’s phone records without a warrant, legal experts say the circumstances of any case ultimately dictate whether a warrant can be sought through a judge, including possible kidnapping cases especially if a suspect can be identified.
Police say they will investigate all allegations against officers through an internal probe, while their top priority is to establish facts, gather evidence, and set up a solid case for the prosecution.