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24 June, 2024
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Legal doubts over detentions in Cyprus’ Azeri case

Debate unfolds in Cyprus after Supreme Court slams brakes on police accessing phone data indiscriminately


The legality of arrests of four Pakistani men, who were identified by Cyprus police as suspects based on phone records in connection with an alleged plot against Israelis, will be reexamined after the Supreme Court ruled that a law allowing indiscriminate data retention on all citizens violated European human rights.

Four Pakistani nationals are currently in remanded custody in Cyprus in connection with a thwarted alleged plot against Israeli businessmen on the island, where local police identified them as suspects after accessing their phone records.

Local media said the four men were arrested after police obtained a search warrant to review cell phone data linked to devices said to be used by the prime suspect, a 38-year-old Russian national of Azeri background who was arrested in late September.

Another man was arrested on Thursday in connection with the case but police have not provided any details except to confirm media reports that he is a foreign national. It was not clear if the latest arrest was based on phone data examined by investigators.

'We will examine the ruling thoroughly… to see if and what we may have in any ongoing cases or how we move forward on the issue of phone data retention'

Police have been keeping a tight lid on the case, citing national security reasons and safety concerns for informants. Some reports pointed to a financial dispute over unpaid Russian debts, while Israeli officials cited intelligence saying Iran was behind a plot to target Israelis on the island.

It was also not clear whether all suspects were linked to the Azeri man or amongst themselves based on phone records obtained by police from telecommunications providers.

But a Supreme Court ruling this week found that a law allowing indiscriminate phone data retention for police purposes violated EU rights to privacy, with the decision starting a huge debate in Cyprus on human rights and privacy versus public safety.

Cypriot prominent lawyer Elias Stefanou, one of the attorneys who represented one of the plaintiffs in the appeal case, was a guest on state radio Friday morning when he acknowledged that police ought to have tools at their disposal to fight crime.

But the lawyer went on to clarify that the law allowing indiscriminate retention of phone data and subsequent access by police was a breach of human rights and rights to privacy.

“It is bad when police don’t have the tools to investigate a suspect,” Stefanou said, but he added “there are other methods that can be used during an interrogation.”

Stefanou, who has taken on many high profile cases in Cyprus, said detentions and subsequent evidence built on illegal access to phone data would be invalid.

“But this is different for cases where other evidence was used to arrest someone,” he said.

Police Chief Stelios Papatheodorou declined to comment on the legality question on Thursday but said they would try to have a meeting with the Legal Department to discuss the Supreme Court decision.

“We will examine the ruling thoroughly… to see if and what [issues] we may have in any ongoing cases or how we move forward on the issue of phone data retention,” Papatheodorou said.

In response to a question by reporters about the Azeri case, the police chief clarified the decision was about indiscriminate retention of data, adding that in many cases phone records were only a part of an investigation.

“We will examine in a calm and sober manner how to handle the cases,” the police chief said.

Cyprus  |  Supreme Court  |  phone records  |  law enforcement  |  police  |  law  |  data retention  |  European human rights  |  Stefanou  |  Papatheodorou  |  Azeri  |  Israel  |  Pakistan  |  suspect

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