A US State Department country report on human rights practices in 2020 proved damning for Cyprus which was found to have had significant human rights issues last year.
The report showed human rights issues in Cyprus involved serious acts of corruption, crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of national and ethnic minorities, as well as a lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women.
The report noted however that “the government took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses.”
Under the section recording torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, the report notes that there were reports that police at times engaged in abusive tactics and degrading treatment, sometimes to enforce measures adopted by the government to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Members of ethnic and racial minorities were more likely to be subjected to such treatment.
The report also reveals that the Independent Police Complaints Authority received 39 complaints against police officers for abuse of power, inappropriate behavior, and unjustifiably issuing fines during the enforcement of COVID-19-related restrictions. Three complaints concerned the use of violence during arrest.
Regarding prisons, the report said that the most recent report of the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), published in 2018, on the country’s prison and detention centers noted persistent credible allegations of police mistreatment of detainees, but also included that the ombudsman has noted continued improvement in the treatment of prisoners and detainees in Cyprus prisons and in detention centers
Physical conditions in some prison and detention centers, including detention centers for asylum seekers and undocumented migrants pending deportation, did not meet international standards, the report also said, highlighting that overcrowding remains a problem in prisons.
On arrest procedures and detainee treatment, the report said the CPT reported in 2018 that police officers regularly prevented detainees from contacting a lawyer until they had given a written statement, highlighting the 2019 case involving a British teenager who claimed Ayia Napa police denied her access to a lawyer during questioning and pressured her to sign a statement revoking her claim of rape against several Israeli teenagers.
In another case mentioned by the report, NGOs reported arbitrary arrests and detention of asylum seekers. According to the UNHCR, on May 11 and 15, police rounded up 67 asylum seekers from hotels and homes, handcuffed them, and transferred them by bus to Kokkinotrimithia reception center, where other refugees and asylum seekers were housed. They were confined to the center due to COVID-19-related movement restrictions. Police reportedly did not present arrest warrants, explain the reason for the arrests, or allow those arrested to bring any personal belongings, including medications.
The report also noted cases of refoulement, such as that on March 20, 2020, when marine police directed a boat carrying 115 Syrians to leave Republic of Cyprus territorial waters and return to Syria, citing COVID-related entry restrictions as the justification. The boat eventually capsized in waters under Turkish Cypriot administration, and Turkish Cypriot authorities deported the Syrians to Turkey. Another case took place on June 4, when a boat reportedly carrying 30 Syrians attempted to enter the country and was pushed back by marine police. The vessel eventually landed in the area under Turkish Cypriot administration. A third pushback of a boat reportedly carrying 10 Syrians was reported in late July. It also landed in the north and its passengers crossed irregularly into the government-controlled area. Between September 1 and 8, police pushed back six more boats arriving from Lebanon.
Regarding corruption, the report refers to The Cyprus Papers published by Al Jazeera last October, depicting extensive evidence captured by undercover reporters that embroiled top officials, including House President Demetris Syllouris and MP Christakis Giovani in the massive corruption that emerged with the island’s Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP). The scandal led to the termination of the CIP in November, with Attorney General Giorgos Savvides launching an investigation into potential criminal offenses arising from the Al Jazeera report. Syllouris and Giovani resigned from the House of Representatives.
The report also refers to the sentencing and imprisonment of officials and a former mayor for corruption, bribery, money laundering, and other related charges in connection to waste management plants operated by the municipalities of Larnaca and Paphos.
Regarding the north, the report underlined that the northern part of Cyprus has been administered by Turkish Cypriots since 1974 and the United States does not recognize the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” nor does any country other than Turkey.
Significant human rights issues in the north included serious restrictions on freedom of expression and the press including criminal libel laws, refoulement of asylum seekers, serious acts of corruption, lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women, trafficking in persons, and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of national minorities.
Authorities took steps to investigate officials following allegations of human rights abuses. There was evidence, however, of impunity, the report added.