Cyprus

Free
93
100
PR Political Rights 38 40
CL Civil Liberties 55 60
Last Year's Score & Status
94 100 Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Note

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.

header2 Overview

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.

header3 Key Developments in 2021

  • Legislative elections were held in May, but the results left the composition of the parliament largely unchanged, with the governing center-right Democratic Rally (DISY) garnering the most votes and the left-wing Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) placing second. However, the far-right National Popular Front (ELAM) doubled its representation from two seats to four, and the liberal centrist Democratic Alignment (DIPA) won representation for the first time.
  • In June, Annita Demetriou of DISY became the first woman to win election as speaker of the Cypriot parliament.
  • Protesters who were opposed to the government’s COVID-19 vaccine requirements and other public health measures attacked the television station Sigma TV in July, breaking windows and setting fire to cars outside the building. The government condemned the attack, and several suspects were arrested.

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 DISY, won a second term with 56 percent of the vote in a 2018 runoff against Stavros Malas, who was backed by AKEL. The two had outpolled seven other candidates in the first round. International observers found that the overall election process adhered to democratic principles.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 in six multimember electoral districts, with members serving five-year terms. The Turkish Cypriot community has 24 reserved seats, which have been left unfilled since Turkish Cypriot representatives withdrew from the chamber in 1964.

In the May 2021 legislative elections, which were held in accordance with international standards, DISY led the voting with 17 seats, down one from 2016, followed by AKEL with 15, also a one-seat decline. The centrist Democratic Party (DIKO) received nine seats, the far-right ELAM received four, the Movement for Social Democracy–Citizens’ Alliance (EDEK-SYPOL) also took four seats, and the Green Party (KOSP) secured three seats. DIPA won parliamentary representation for the first time, receiving four seats.

The elections took place while Cyprus was in a nationwide partial lockdown following an increase in COVID-19 cases. Restrictions were imposed on movement and assembly, limiting in-person campaign activities, but the rules were widely seen as legitimate public health measures.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 March and April 2021, lawmakers adopted legislation designed to accommodate voters who were unable to appear at ordinary polling places due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In their report on the 2021 legislative elections, election monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) noted confidence in the professionalism and impartiality of the civil servants responsible for election administration. They also recommended several improvements, including legal provisions for the presence of foreign and citizen observers, caps on parties’ campaign spending, and earlier reporting requirements for such spending.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 2021 parliamentary elections, and despite an increase in the vote threshold for representation ahead of the 2016 voting, from 1.8 percent to 3.6 percent, a new party, DIPA, was able to enter the parliament in 2021.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 European Parliament (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 traditionally 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. Only eight women were elected to the parliament in 2021, a decline from the 2016 results. Sexism and patriarchal attitudes discourage women from playing a more active role in politics. Despite these realities, in June 2021 Annita Demetriou of DISY became the first woman to be elected as speaker of the Cypriot parliament.

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.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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.

An August 2020 investigative report from Al-Jazeera on Cyprus’s citizenship-by-investment program revealed that at least 30 of the roughly 1,400 wealthy applicants who received European Union (EU) citizenship by investing €2 million ($2.4 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. The government terminated the citizenship-by-investment program in November 2020 and stopped receiving new applications, but it continued to process pending applications during 2021. In February 2021, partly in response to the controversy, Interior Minister Nicos Nouris introduced draft legislation that would impose stricter criteria for the naturalization of foreign citizens in general, including a threshold for duration of legal residency, a clean criminal record, and basic knowledge of the country’s language and culture.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 2017, though civil society activists had argued that the bill’s exemptions were too broad.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 July 2021, a group of violent protesters attacked and vandalized the offices of the television station Sigma TV, breaking windows and setting fire to cars near the building. They were part of a larger demonstration of roughly 5,000 people who were expressing opposition to the government’s measures to curb COVID-19 transmission and increase vaccination rates. Government officials denounced the violence, and a number of suspected perpetrators were arrested.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 also constitutionally recognizes and subsidizes non-Orthodox Christian and Muslim religious institutions, and it 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. Unrecognized religious groups can receive tax exemptions by registering as nonprofit organizations.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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. In September 2021, the Education Ministry ordered the withdrawal of an English-language textbook that made positive references to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 4.004 4.004

Freedom of assembly is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected in practice.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 3.003 4.004

NGOs are generally free to operate without government interference. However, in June 2020, the Supreme Court ordered Action for Equality, Support, Antiracism (KISA) to pay a €10,000 ($12,000) fine for defamation over a document that criticized two government appointees. In August of that year, the parliament amended the law on associations, empowering the Ministry of Interior to swiftly deregister NGOs that it deems inactive or noncompliant with the law’s filing requirements. The ministry then deregistered KISA, which was known for its advocacy on behalf of migrants and asylum seekers, in December 2020, on the grounds that it failed to file with the Registrar of Associations within the required deadline to show that its constitution was compatible with the law. The necessary information was submitted after the deadline, but in February 2021 the ministry ordered banks to freeze the organization’s assets, and in June the Administrative Court rejected KISA’s appeal of the deregistration. An appeal to the Supreme Court was pending at year’s end.

Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 3 due to a pattern of government pressure on an antiracism NGO that threatened the group’s ability to continue operating.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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, leading to a number of tense confrontations at sea in recent years.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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.

A total of 13,260 first-time asylum applications were filed in Cyprus during 2021, up sharply from the roughly 7,000 submitted in 2020. Most asylum seekers arrive by land through the TRNC, prompting allegations from the Cypriot government that Ankara is encouraging irregular migration. Cypriot authorities have denied reports that they engage in unlawful maritime pushbacks to prevent arrivals by sea. The Cypriot Asylum Service estimated that there were nearly 17,000 asylum applications pending at the end of 2021, though this was a slight reduction from the previous year. A specialized administrative court began operating in 2019 to handle appeals. While many newcomers are quickly released from overburdened reception centers, they often lack access to other housing. In 2021, the government simplified procedures for the hiring of asylum seekers, though they were permitted to work only in certain sectors and categories of employment.

Overcrowding and other poor conditions at the Pournara reception center have been exacerbated in recent years by COVID-19 and the rise in new arrivals, prompting periodic protests by the residents. The center, built in 2014 as an emergency reception facility for up to 400 people, was later expanded to accommodate 1,000. By December 2021 it reportedly hosted more than 2,500 people.

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.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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, but the number of border crossings between north and south has increased over the last decade. In June 2021, Cypriot authorities reopened checkpoints that had been closed for months in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In August, the Cypriot government decided to rescind the passports of senior TRNC officials, arguing that the Turkish Cypriot leaders had subverted the country’s integrity when they announced plans to reopen parts of the resort town of Varosha, a key point of contention in talks on peace and unification.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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, is administered by 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.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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, which 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. President Anastasiades announced in June 2021 that he would establish a committee to review the draft bill. Domestic violence remains a problem despite official efforts to prevent and punish it. Government-funded shelters are open to survivors of domestic abuse.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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.

On Cyprus

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  • Global Freedom Score

    93 100 free