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12° Nicosia,
29 May, 2024
 
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US State Department highlights religious freedom issues in Cyprus

Access to religious sites and discrimination against minority religious groups addressed in the report

Newsroom / CNA

The US State Department's 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom for Cyprus sheds light on various issues concerning religious freedom on the island. The report emphasizes that the government of the Republic of Cyprus is the internationally recognized authority, while Turkey remains the sole country recognizing the "TRNC" (Turkish Cypriot regime in the occupied areas). It highlights the presence of Turkish troops and the UN-patrolled buffer zone, known as the "Green Line," separating the two sides.

The report presents two sections: one focusing on the Republic of Cyprus and the other on the Turkish-occupied areas referred to as the "area administered by Turkish Cypriots." The estimated total population of the island is 1.3 million, with the government-controlled area comprising 918,100 residents.

In the Republic of Cyprus, the government granted limited access to mosques, allowing visitors to enter only six of the designated cultural heritage sites and two other mosques. Restrictions on access to the Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque were also mentioned, although expanded access was granted during Ramadan. Autopsies performed on deceased members of the Jewish community without consent were reported as a violation of religious beliefs.

Efforts to enhance religious freedom and accessibility to religious sites were pursued through various initiatives. The Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage completed the conservation and restoration of Zuhuri Mosque and Orounda Mosque. The restoration of Limassol Grand Mosque was made possible through a generous donation from the Government of Qatar.

Instances of ostracism faced by Greek Orthodox Christians who converted to another religion were reported. Religious leaders participated in the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process (RTCYPP) to advocate for greater religious freedom and facilitate dialogue among different faith communities.

US embassy representatives engaged with government officials, religious leaders, NGOs, and minority religious groups to address issues related to access to religious sites and discrimination. The US Ambassador coordinated actions in support of religious freedom and met with leaders from various religious communities, including the Maronite Church, Orthodox Church, and the Chief Rabbi of Cyprus.

In the Turkish-occupied areas, the report states that the US does not recognize the "TRNC." The approval of Greek Cypriot religious services was mentioned, although some requests were denied due to specific criteria, unsafe conditions, or inflammatory behavior by Greek Cypriot religious leaders. Turkish-speaking Protestant and Greek Orthodox communities reported surveillance during their activities and worship services.

Societal pressures, discrimination, and workplace challenges were reported for Turkish Cypriots who converted from Islam to other faiths. Engagement and cooperation varied among religious leaders, with the current Mufti of Cyprus displaying less openness compared to his predecessor. The US Ambassador and embassy officials continued engagement with the Mufti's office, the Religious Affairs Department, and other representatives to foster cooperation and advocate for access to religious sites.

Through ongoing dialogue and collaboration, efforts are being made to address religious freedom concerns, promote interfaith cooperation, and ensure equal access to religious sites for all communities in Cyprus.

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