The numerical scores and status listed here do not reflect conditions in Northern Cyprus, which is examined in a separate report. Freedom in the World reports assess the level of political rights and civil liberties in a given geographical area, regardless of whether they are affected by the state, nonstate actors, or foreign powers. Disputed territories are sometimes assessed separately if they meet certain criteria, including boundaries that are sufficiently stable to allow year-on-year comparisons. For more information, see the report methodology and FAQ.
The Republic of Cyprus is a democracy that has de jure sovereignty over the entire island. In practice, however, the government controls only the southern, largely Greek-speaking part of the island, as the northern area is ruled by the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Turkey. Political rights and civil liberties are generally respected in the Republic of Cyprus. Ongoing concerns include corruption, societal discrimination against minority groups, and weaknesses in the asylum system.
- The first cases of COVID-19 in Cyprus were confirmed in March. The government adopted temporary lockdown measures, including restrictions on incoming travelers and the closure of most businesses for two months. The virus remained well controlled for most of the year, though cases began to rise in the autumn. A total of 22,000 confirmed cases and 119 deaths had been reported by year’s end.
- Due in part to the pandemic, the country received only about 7,000 new asylum applications in 2020, down from 13,600 in 2019. However, there were still nearly 20,000 cases yet to be processed at the end of the year, and the Cypriot coast guard reportedly pushed back some vessels carrying refugees from ports in Turkey and Lebanon.
- A media investigation published in August implicated politicians and state officials in an alleged scheme to facilitate citizenship applications by foreign investors with criminal records.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The president is elected by popular vote for five-year terms. The current president, Nicos Anastasiades of the center-right Democratic Rally (DISY), won a second term with 56 percent of the vote in a 2018 runoff against Stavros Malas, who was backed by the left-wing Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL). The two had outpolled seven other candidates in the first round. International observers found that the overall election process adhered to democratic principles.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The unicameral House of Representatives has 80 seats filled through proportional representation for five-year terms. The Turkish Cypriot community has 24 reserved seats, which have been unfilled since Turkish Cypriot representatives withdrew from the chamber in 1964.
In the 2016 legislative elections, which were held in accordance with international standards, DISY led the voting with 18 seats, down slightly from 2011, followed by AKEL with 16, also a decline. The Democratic Party (DIKO) received 9 seats, the Movement for Social Democracy (EDEK) took 3, and the Green Party secured 2. Three new parties won seats for the first time: the far-right National Popular Front (ELAM) took 2, while 3 each went to the center-left Citizens’ Alliance (SYPOL) and the right-wing Solidarity, an offshoot of DISY.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||4.004 4.004|
Electoral laws are generally fair. In their report on the 2018 presidential vote, election monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) noted some improvements since the 2013 contest, including 2017 legal changes that abolished most mandatory-voting provisions and established a ceiling of €1 million ($1.1 million) for candidates’ campaign spending. The report found that the election was administered in a “highly professional, efficient, and transparent manner.”
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4.004 4.004|
A wide array of parties compete in the political system. Cyprus’s two main parties, DISY on the right and AKEL on the left, usually split the largest share of the vote, but neither has dominated politics, and other parties are often able to play significant roles. Both DISY and AKEL lost seats in the 2016 parliamentary elections, and despite an increase in the vote threshold for representation, from 1.8 percent to 3.6 percent, three new parties were able to enter the parliament. In the May 2019 European Parliament (EP) elections, four parties won representation: DISY and AKEL with two seats each, and DIKO and EDEK with one each.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
Cyprus has experienced regular democratic transfers of power between rival parties in recent decades, and multiple opposition parties are able to gain representation in the legislature.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||4.004 4.004|
People are generally able to express their political choices without undue interference from outside actors.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3.003 4.004|
Three recognized Christian minority groups—the Armenians, the Latins, and the Maronites—each have one nonvoting representative in the parliament. Members of these communities vote in special elections for their representatives, as well as in the general elections. The 24 seats reserved for the Turkish Cypriot population remain unfilled. However, in the 2019 EP elections, Niyazi Kızılyürek of AKEL became the first Turkish Cypriot to be elected to the EP or to win office in the Republic of Cyprus since 1964.
Women in Cyprus have equal political rights, but they are underrepresented in political parties. No parliamentary party is led by a woman, and parties have failed to meet internal quotas mandating that 30 to 35 percent of their candidates be women. Women hold about a fifth of the seats in the House of Representatives. No women ran for president in 2018. Sexism and patriarchal attitudes discourage women from playing a more active role in politics.
The interests of the LGBT+ community, which still faces significant discrimination from some sectors of society, are not always well represented in the political system.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||4.004 4.004|
The freely elected government is able to make and implement policy without improper interference from unelected entities.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||3.003 4.004|
Cyprus has strong anticorruption laws that are, for the most part, adequately enforced. However, there have been a number of high-profile corruption scandals in recent years, and critics of the government’s record have raised concerns about early releases and pardons of individuals convicted on corruption charges.
In August 2020, Al Jazeera released an investigative report on Cyprus’s citizenship-by-investment program. It revealed that at least 30 of the roughly 1,400 wealthy applicants who received European Union (EU) citizenship by investing €2 million ($2.2 million) in Cyprus had criminal convictions or pending charges; another 40 were identified as “politically exposed persons,” meaning they held senior positions in governments or state-owned enterprises. This led some analysts to conclude that members of the Cypriot government may have knowingly facilitated the problematic applications in violation of the law. Demetris Syllouris, the speaker of the Cypriot parliament, and another lawmaker, Christakis Giovanis, resigned in October after being implicated in the media investigation; several state officials were also accused of wrongdoing. The government terminated the citizenship-by-investment program in November.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||4.004 4.004|
In general, the government operates with openness and transparency. The country enacted a long-awaited freedom of information law in late 2017, though civil society activists had argued that the bill’s exemptions were too broad.
|Are there free and independent media?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of speech is constitutionally guaranteed, and media freedom is generally respected. A vibrant independent press frequently holds the authorities to account. Numerous private outlets compete with public media, and there are no restrictions on access to online news sources.
In 2019, the auditor general threatened to withhold state subsidies from the English-language daily Cyprus Mail after the newspaper used a Turkish geographical name in its reports. Separately, in February 2020, the auditor general and the Kathimerini newspaper—along with its parent company—filed lawsuits against one another for alleged defamation.
In March 2020, in a rare act of violence against the media, a pipe bomb exploded at the offices of MC Digital Media Group, which owns the Cyprus Times and other outlets. No one was injured in the attack, and it did not cause extensive damage.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution and generally protected in practice. Nearly 90 percent of those living in government-controlled Cyprus are Orthodox Christians, and the Orthodox Church enjoys certain privileges, including religious instruction and some religious services in public schools. Non-Orthodox students may opt out of such activities. The government recognizes Muslim religious institutions and facilitates crossings at the UN buffer zone between north and south for the purpose of worship at religious sites.
Muslim groups have occasionally faced obstacles in the operation of their religious sites or discrimination by the general public. For example, the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) Caritas and Action for Equality, Support, Antiracism (KISA) have reported cases of private employers refusing to hire women who wore hijabs. However, according to Caritas, Muslim students have faced less discrimination recently than in previous years. Members of other religious minorities sometimes encounter isolated incidents of discrimination.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||3.003 4.004|
Academic freedom is respected in Cyprus. However, state schools use textbooks containing negative language about Turkish Cypriots and Turkey, and there is some political pressure regarding schools’ treatment of sensitive historical and unification-related issues.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
People are generally free to engage in political and other sensitive discussions without fear of retribution or surveillance.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
NGOs are generally free to operate without government interference. However, in June 2020, the Supreme Court ordered KISA to pay a €10,000 ($11,000) fine for defamation over a document that criticized two government appointees. In August, the parliament amended the law on associations, empowering the Ministry of Interior to swiftly deregister NGOs it deems inactive or noncompliant with the law’s filing requirements. The ministry deregistered KISA in December, despite the group’s claims that the action was illegal and unconstitutional. An appeal was pending at year’s end.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||4.004 4.004|
Workers have the right to strike, form independent trade unions, and engage in collective bargaining. The law provides remedies for antiunion discrimination, though enforcement is uneven.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||4.004 4.004|
The judiciary is independent in practice. Supreme Court judges are appointed by the president on the recommendation of the court’s existing members, and lower court judges are appointed by Supreme Court judges in their capacity as the Supreme Council of Judicature.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||4.004 4.004|
The justice system generally upholds due process standards. Law enforcement agencies largely observe safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention, and criminal defendants have access to counsel and fair trial procedures.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||4.004 4.004|
Residents of Cyprus are free from major threats to physical security, though human rights monitors have noted cases of police brutality. Overcrowding and other problematic conditions have been reported at prisons and migrant detention centers.
In an attempt to block Cyprus’s efforts to explore for offshore oil and gas, the Turkish government has threatened to use force against drilling vessels. Ankara argues that the maritime areas in question are under the jurisdiction of either Turkey or the TRNC. Tensions rose in August 2020 when a Turkish survey ship with military escorts entered disputed waters west of Cyprus. In December, the EU approved sanctions against Turkish officials and entities in response to the action.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||3.003 4.004|
Despite government efforts to combat prejudice and inequality, members of non–Greek Cypriot minority groups, including migrants and asylum seekers, face discrimination and occasional violence.
More than 7,000 new asylum applications were filed in 2020. While this represented a decrease from the roughly 13,600 applications in 2019, due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, the influx in recent years has created a large backlog of asylum cases, which can take several years to process. The Cypriot Asylum Service estimated that there were 19,660 applications pending at the end of 2020. A specialized administrative court began operating in June 2019 to handle appeals. While many newcomers are quickly released from overburdened reception centers, they often lack access to other housing. Overcrowding and other poor conditions at the Pournara center were exacerbated in 2020 by COVID-19 lockdowns, prompting protests by the residents. Separately, in March and September, the Cypriot coast guard reportedly pushed back vessels that were carrying refugees and migrants from ports in Turkey and Lebanon.
Gender discrimination in the workplace remains a problem, including with respect to hiring practices, salaries, and sexual harassment; laws against it have not been adequately enforced.
Antidiscrimination laws generally prohibit bias based on sexual orientation, and there are legal protections for transgender people on some issues as well. For example, laws barring incitement to hatred apply to both sexual orientation and gender identity. However, the LGBT+ community continues to face societal discrimination in practice.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||3.003 4.004|
There are few impediments to freedom of movement within the government-controlled area of the Republic of Cyprus. The UN buffer zone dividing the island remains in place, though travel between north and south has improved since 2004 due to an increase in the number of border crossings. Two new crossing points opened in 2018. However, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the border was closed for parts of 2020.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||4.004 4.004|
Property rights are generally respected in Cyprus. A 1991 law stipulates that property left by Turkish Cypriots after 1974, when a Turkish invasion divided the island, belongs to the state. Under the law in the north, Greek Cypriots can appeal to the Immovable Property Commission (IMP), which in 2010 was recognized by the European Court of Human Rights as a responsible authority for the resolution of property disputes. However, its work has been seriously impaired in recent years by a lack of funding from the TRNC and Ankara.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||4.004 4.004|
Personal social freedoms are largely unrestricted. Same-sex civil unions are allowed under a 2015 law, but it did not include adoption rights for same-sex couples. Since 2017, the government has been considering legislation that would establish a procedure to correct one’s legal gender. Domestic violence remains a problem despite official efforts to prevent and punish it. Two government-funded shelters are open to survivors of domestic abuse.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||3.003 4.004|
The legal framework generally protects workers against exploitative conditions of employment, and the government has made genuine progress in combating human trafficking. However, persistent problems include insufficient resources for labor inspectors and illegally low pay for undocumented migrant workers. Migrant workers and asylum seekers remain vulnerable to sexual exploitation and forced labor.
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