Northern Cyprus*

PR Political Rights 31 40
CL Civil Liberties 50 60
Last Year's Score & Status
81 100 Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.
* Indicates a territory as opposed to an independent country.

header1 Note

The numerical scores and status listed here do not reflect conditions in the rest of Cyprus, which is examined in a separate report. 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 Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) is a self-declared state recognized only by Turkey. It has a democratic, multiparty political system, and civil liberties are generally upheld. Ongoing concerns include undue political and economic influence from Turkey, corruption, discrimination against minority communities, and human trafficking.

header3 Key Developments in 2019

  • In May, the four-party governing coalition collapsed with the withdrawal of the People’s Party (HP). HP leader Kudret Özersay formed a new coalition with the National Unity Party (UBP), and that party’s leader, Ersin Tatar, became prime minister. The new government was seen as more closely aligned with Ankara.
  • In June, Özersay announced plans to consider unilaterally reopening the closed town of Varosha (Maraş), which had been held by the Turkish military since 1974. The move drew objections from the United Nations and Varosha’s former Greek Cypriot residents, who also criticized the Republic of Cyprus government in the island’s south for failing to revive reunification talks that had last broken off in 2017.

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, who serves as head of state and represents the TRNC internationally, is popularly elected to five-year terms. In 2015, Mustafa Akıncı—backed by the social democratic Communal Democracy Party (TDP)—prevailed in a runoff election with just over 60 percent of the vote, defeating incumbent Derviş Eroğlu, who was supported by the right-wing National Unity Party (UBP).

The president appoints the prime minister and cabinet members, who must have the support of a legislative majority. In May 2019, Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Kudret Özersay, leader of the centrist-reformist People’s Party (HP), announced that his party would withdraw from the governing coalition that had formed after the January 2018 parliamentary elections. The coalition—consisting of the HP, the TDP, the center-left Republican Turkish Party (CTP), and the center-right Democratic Party (DP)—had excluded the UBP and the Rebirth Party (YDP), a right-wing group formed primarily by Turkish settlers, from government. Later in May, Özersay formed a new coalition with the UBP, whose leader, Ersin Tatar, became prime minister; Özersay retained his existing posts.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4.004 4.004

For elections to the 50-seat Assembly of the Republic, the TRNC employs a mixed voting system, with the proportional representation component setting a 5 percent vote threshold for parties to win seats. Members serve five-year terms. The UBP led the January 2018 parliamentary elections with 21 seats. However, it was left in opposition after the CTP (12 seats) formed its coalition with the HP (9), the TDP (3), and the DP (3). The YDP took 2 seats. The new UBP-HP government formed in May 2019 controlled a solid legislative majority, with 30 seats.

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? 3.003 4.004

The Supreme Election Committee is an independent body composed of judges, and elections in the TRNC are generally considered free and fair. A complex new election law that came into effect in 2018 allowed voters to choose a single party, individual candidates from multiple parties, or a combination of the two; voters were also able to choose candidates across more than one multimember constituency. The law made it more complicated to vote for individual candidates and therefore encouraged party voting.

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

Turkish Cypriots are free to organize in political parties, and several parties compete in practice. Six parties were represented in the legislature in 2019, including two—HP and YDP—that entered the chamber for the first time after the 2018 elections. Under a 2015 law, parties that receive at least 3 percent of the vote may obtain state funding.

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

There have been multiple democratic transfers of power between rival parties over the past two decades, with shifts in both the presidency and the premiership. Akıncı ousted the incumbent president in the 2015 election, and the ideologically diverse parties that formed a governing coalition in 2018 replaced a right-wing government led by the UBP. The party then returned to power with support from the HP in May 2019.

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? 3.003 4.004

Although Turkey continues to exercise considerable influence over the TRNC, it has little direct control over voters, many of whom have recently supported candidates and parties that display independence from Ankara. Ahead of the 2018 elections, the CTP, HP, and TDP had campaigned on promises to reform a patronage-based political system associated with the UBP, in which the distribution of jobs and favors has depended in part on maintaining a smooth flow of economic support from Turkey.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 2.002 4.004

All adult citizens may vote, but minority rights remain a concern. The few hundred Maronite and Greek Cypriots living in the TRNC are issued special identity cards and are unable to vote in TRNC elections. While small numbers of Maronites from the south have been allowed to resettle in their ancestral villages in the north since 2017, there has been no significant progress on expanding Maronite political rights.

Women have full political rights, and a 2015 law requires 30 percent of a party’s parliamentary candidate list to consist of women. However, women’s political participation is limited in practice, particularly in leadership positions. In the 2018 elections, women won nine seats out of 50, an improvement from four in the previous legislature. Two of the 11 ministers in that government were women; in the new two-party coalition that took power in 2019, there was one woman minister.

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? 3.003 4.004

While elected officials generally develop and implement policies and legislation without direct interference from Ankara, the TRNC remains diplomatically, militarily, and financially dependent on Turkey, and this dependence sometimes allows the Turkish government to influence policymaking.

President Akıncı has shown considerable independence from the Turkish government, deepening a rift with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2019 by criticizing Turkey’s military offensive in northern Syria. However, the new TRNC coalition government formed in May was more closely aligned with Turkey’s position on reunification talks with the Republic of Cyprus. Whereas Akıncı had long supported a federation model, for example, the new government called for consideration of alternatives, including a two-state solution.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 2.002 4.004

Corruption, cronyism in the distribution of civil service jobs, and nepotism are serious impediments to good governance, and the media have exposed a number of scandals in recent years. Surveys of businesspeople in Northern Cyprus have shown that large majorities consider corruption and bribery to be significant problems, including in the public sector and government services.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 2.002 4.004

Although there is a law providing for access to information, there has been very little progress in making government records available to the public in practice. Information is not always kept in an accessible form, and officials reportedly withhold data on sensitive topics such as the naturalization of Turkish settlers as TRNC citizens.

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 the press is guaranteed by law, and TRNC authorities generally respect it in practice. The media often carry sharp criticism of both the TRNC and Turkish governments. In May 2019, a reporter and the editor of the newspaper Afrika were acquitted of insulting the Turkish president with a political cartoon published in 2017. They had each faced up to five years in prison. The prosecution’s appeal of the verdict was pending at year’s end.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 3.003 4.004

The TRNC is a secular state and legally guarantees freedom of worship, which is mostly respected in practice. However, authorities continue to impose restrictions on access to churches and otherwise interfere with church services. Christians and non-Sunni Muslims have complained that the government favors Sunni Islam in its policies on religious education and places of worship. The government’s Religious Affairs Department staffs Sunni mosques with imams.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 4.004 4.004

Academic freedom is generally respected. While large numbers of teachers and professors have been fired or jailed for political reasons in Turkey since 2016, no similar purges had occurred in the TRNC as of 2019.

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

There are no significant restrictions on freedom of private discussion, and individuals generally do not face repercussions for expressing their political views on social media.

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 guaranteed by the constitution and generally upheld 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? 4.004 4.004

Numerous nongovernmental organizations are registered in the TRNC, and they typically operate without restrictions. Many such groups have worked with Greek Cypriot partners to advance reunification efforts.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 3.003 4.004

Workers may form independent unions, bargain collectively, and strike, and collective bargaining is reportedly common in the public sector. However, the government can limit strikes in ill-defined essential services, and employers are reportedly able to obstruct unionization in the private sector without legal repercussions.

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, and courts have often ruled against the government in recent years. The system is overseen by the Supreme Council of Judicature, which is headed by the president of the Supreme Court and includes that court’s seven judges as well as one member each appointed by the president, the legislature, the attorney general, and the bar association. The council is responsible for judicial appointments, promotions, assignments, and disciplinary measures.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 3.003 4.004

Although due process rights are typically respected, police have been accused of violating protections against arbitrary detention and coerced confessions in some cases, for example by improperly denying suspects access to a lawyer.

There had been no large-scale purges of TRNC security forces or other public employees in connection with the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey as of 2019, but due process has been a concern in the clusters of cases that have emerged. Investigations and dismissals of police officers continued to be reported during the year, with those fired accused of ties to the movement of US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, which is blamed for the coup attempt and considered a terrorist organization in Turkey. In September, more than 200 Turkish military personnel—some of whom were stationed in Northern Cyprus—were reportedly arrested by Turkish authorities on similar allegations.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 3.003 4.004

The population is generally free from threats to physical security, but police have been accused of abusing detainees, and prisons feature overcrowding and other harsh conditions.

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

Women enjoy legal equality, but in practice they encounter some discrimination in employment, education, and other areas.

The tiny Greek and Maronite minorities live in enclaves and suffer from social and economic disadvantages. The small Kurdish minority is reportedly subject to discrimination in employment. Both groups have complained of surveillance by TRNC authorities.

LGBT+ people reportedly face social stigmatization, though same-sex sexual activity was decriminalized in 2014, and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is prohibited by law.

The TRNC lacks legal protections for asylum seekers, raising concerns about possible refoulement. Some Turkish nationals suspected of belonging to the Gülen movement have been deported to Turkey, where they face persecution.

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

Movement within the TRNC territory is generally unrestricted. However, travel abroad is complicated by the TRNC’s lack of international recognition. The only direct flights from the TRNC are to Turkey. Most governments do not accept TRNC travel documents, so many Turkish Cypriots carry Republic of Cyprus passports, for which they are eligible. Movement across the UN buffer zone dividing the island has improved since 2004 due to the opening of new border crossings.

A number of former civilian municipalities have been under Turkish military control since 1974, with bans on settlement or resettlement. In June 2019, the government announced that it would begin a feasibility study on reopening the closed town of Varosha (Maraş), which had once been a popular tourist destination. The move drew objections from Varosha’s former Greek Cypriot residents and the UN Security Council, which had long warned against any unilateral change in the town’s status or settlement by people other than its previous inhabitants.

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? 3.003 4.004

The authorities recognize the rights to own property and establish businesses. In practice these rights are somewhat limited, as authorities have in various ways attempted to prevent the sale of historically Turkish Cypriot properties to foreigners. The TRNC formed the Immovable Property Commission (IPC) in 2006 to resolve claims by Greek Cypriots who owned property in the north before the island’s 1974 division. In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights recognized the commission as an “accessible and effective” mechanism. However, its work has been seriously impaired in recent years by a lack of funding from the government 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? 3.003 4.004

Personal social freedoms are generally respected, though women’s organizations have criticized the government for failing to adequately address the problems of rape and domestic violence. According to a 2017 poll, one in three women have experienced violence in the home. However, figures released in December 2019 suggested that reporting of such abuse was increasing significantly, with police in 2018 receiving 1,047 reports—four times the average from previous years.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 2.002 4.004

While TRNC citizens generally have access to economic opportunity and protections from abusive working conditions, noncitizens often experience exploitation and lack mechanisms for appeal. Human trafficking and forced prostitution are serious problems, despite a nominal legal ban on prostitution. The TRNC does not have adequate antitrafficking legislation and does not fund antitrafficking efforts. Observers also report that some authorities are complicit in trafficking.

On Northern Cyprus

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  • Global Freedom Score

    76 100 free