A State Department report has called out Cyprus on matters of religious freedom, following a number of stories in the media including the right to wear hijab in school, kosher laws, and access to religious sites.
The 2019 Report on Religious Freedom around the world was released on Wednesday by the US State Department, with the annual reports aiming to “shed light on the nature, scope, and severity of actions impacting religious freedom through illustrative examples.”
An incident last year in Nicosia concerning a Muslim student’s right to wear her hijab in school was mentioned in the report, naming a school principal at a local high school who “instructed a Muslim student wearing a headscarf to leave the school and only return after removing it.”
Another incident was recorded in the Report, saying a Somali woman was refused employment in a local hotel because she was wearing a hijab.
The report also touched on a recent debate over kosher meat, saying Jewish representatives were reporting that the state Veterinary Services officials in the Republic of Cyprus kept denying exemptions from the requirement to stun animals before slaughter, despite granting exemptions in previous years.
Another incident was recorded in the Report, saying a Somali woman was refused employment in a local hotel because she was wearing a hijab
Slaughterhouses in the Republic of Cyprus are required by law to treat livestock humanely, including pre-slaughter handling, stunning, and slaughtering. But according to kosher traditions, injured animals, as well as administering electric shock to an animal prior to slaughtering, is prohibited because it is believed to render the incapacitated animal unfit for consumption.
A legislative effort, which would have allowed local slaughterhouses to process livestock legally according to the Kosher ritual. eventually fell through. According to a Jewish tradition known as shechita or shechitah, animals must be healthy and uninjured prior to slaughter.
The report also pointed out that Jewish representatives said the government remained unresponsive to their long-standing request to grant the Chief Rabbinate of Cyprus the right to officiate documents, including marriage, death, and divorce certificates.
The report also touched on access to religious sites on both sides of the divided island, saying embassy officials met frequently with religious leaders encouraging greater access to religious sites on either side and taking measures to eliminate discrimination against minority religious communities.
Additional issues were pointed out regarding members of minorities in the south feeling pressure to take part in religious activities of majority groups, including children of various religious minorities saying they faced social pressure to attend Greek Orthodox religious ceremonies at school.
In the north, a protocol signed between Turkish Cypriots authorities and Turkey was mentioned, with the agreement providing for the opening of a religious high school within the premises of Hala Sultan Religious High School, which is a public school.
Secular Turkish Cypriot groups criticized the protocol, the reports said, stating it imposed Islam on secular Turkish Cypriots.