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 Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) is a self-declared state recognized only by Turkey. Civil liberties are generally upheld, and the multiparty political system is largely democratic, though it has experienced growing interference from the Turkish government. Other ongoing concerns include corruption, discrimination against minority communities, and human trafficking.
- In early March, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government closed all borders and imposed movement restrictions on the population that lasted in whole or in part until June. As of mid-May there were no coronavirus patients in local hospitals. However, a number of entry restrictions remained in place, and social-distancing measures were tightened again in December as case numbers rose. Despite the upward trend, only six deaths were reported for the year.
- A new information technology law enacted in July empowered the government to shut down websites that carry illegal content, including defamatory material.
- In the October presidential election, which featured heavy-handed interference by the Turkish government, center-left incumbent Mustafa Akıncı was defeated by Prime Minister Ersin Tatar, a right-wing nationalist with close ties to Ankara.
- Days before the election, the People’s Party (HP), led by Foreign Minister Kudret Özersay, withdrew from the ruling coalition. Tatar’s National Unity Party (UBP) formed a new coalition in December with two smaller parties, and the resulting government was narrowly approved by the legislature later that month.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||2.002 4.004|
The president, who serves as head of state and represents the TRNC internationally, is popularly elected to five-year terms. The 2020 presidential election was originally scheduled for April, but it was postponed until October due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Akıncı, the incumbent, ran for reelection as an independent with the backing of the social democratic Communal Democracy Party (TDP). He was defeated by Prime Minister Tatar of the UBP, the Turkish government’s preferred candidate, who took nearly 52 percent of the vote in the second round.
The election period featured highly unusual and overt interference by Turkish authorities on Tatar’s behalf; during his term as president, Akıncı had repeatedly criticized the Turkish government, including for meddling in TRNC politics. In early October, before the first round of voting, the communications adviser for Turkish vice president Fuat Oktay arrived to aid Tatar’s campaign, while a member of the Turkish parliament from the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) canvassed 69 villages to support Tatar. The Turkish embassy allegedly contacted mayors and village leaders to ask them what they needed in exchange for their support. Reports later emerged that Turkish government and intelligence officials had threatened Tatar’s opponents, including Akıncı, as well as Turkish Cypriot businesses with interests in Turkey. The public interventions polarized the electorate between those who condemned Ankara’s interference and those who wanted to maintain Turkish support. Possibly due to the extreme polarization, only 58 percent of eligible voters went to the polls in the first round, the lowest figure in the history of the TRNC. In the week before the second-round vote, the UBP distributed favors in villages, while Tatar’s government disbursed financial aid, ostensibly to compensate for losses during the COVID-19 lockdown. Turnout for the runoff balloting was 67 percent.
The president appoints the prime minister and cabinet members, who must have the support of a legislative majority. After winning election as president, Tatar resigned as prime minister and head of the UBP. Ersan Saner, a seasoned lawmaker and former minister, became the new UBP leader and eventually formed a ruling coalition with the center-right Democratic Party (DP) and the Rebirth Party (YDP), a right-wing group backed primarily by settlers from Turkey. The previous coalition, between the UBP and HP, had collapsed ahead of the election when the HP withdrew. In late December, Saner’s cabinet narrowly won approval from the legislature in a 24–20 vote, with some members abstaining.
Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 2 because the government of Turkey openly intervened to support its preferred candidate—the incumbent prime minister—in Northern Cyprus’s presidential election, deploying personnel and financial resources to aid his campaign.
|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. In the 2018 elections, the UBP led with 21 seats, followed by the center-left Republican Turkish Party (CTP) with 12 seats, the HP (9), the TDP (3), the DP (3), and the YDP (2). The HP had initially formed a government with the CTP, the TDP, and the DP, but withdrew and formed a new coalition with the UBP in 2019, before withdrawing from that alliance as well ahead of the 2020 presidential vote.
|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 have generally been considered free and fair, though the degree of Turkish government interference in the 2020 presidential vote called this into question.
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.
During the 2020 presidential election, several hundred citizens were prohibited from voting because they were under quarantine in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.
|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 2020, 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.
|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 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, only to lose office himself in the 2020 balloting. Three different governing coalitions have controlled the cabinet since the 2018 legislative elections, and opposition parties retained a strong position in the assembly as of 2020.
|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?||2.002 4.004|
Although the Turkish government has always exercised considerable influence over the TRNC, in the past it had little direct control over voters, many of whom have supported candidates and parties that displayed independence from Ankara. In the 2020 presidential election, however, the Turkish government for the first time engaged in an explicit campaign of inducements and threats against Akıncı and in support of his main rival, Tatar. Support for Tatar’s UBP party had already been strong in rural areas, particularly among those who viewed the party’s patronage network as a way to access jobs and favors. That network, in turn, depended in part on a steady flow of economic support from Turkey, and Ankara’s open opposition to Akıncı raised the prospect that such support could be cut off if he won reelection.
The Turkish government’s interference in the process reportedly continued when, following Tatar’s election as president in October, the UBP began an intraparty contest to decide on a new party leader and prime minister. Pressure from Turkish government representatives allegedly resulted in the withdrawal of the two leading candidates in favor of a third candidate, Ersan Saner, who was supported by Ankara and ultimately succeeded.
Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 due to increased interference by the government of Turkey in Northern Cyprus’s political processes, including the presidential election and the contest within the ruling party to replace the prime minister.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||2.002 4.004|
All adult citizens may vote, but the rights of minority populations 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. No female candidates ran in the 2020 presidential race, and the new coalition government formed in December 2020 had no female ministers.
There have been recurring questions about the number of naturalized TNRC citizens originally from Turkey, their voting habits, and the manner in which they acquired citizenship. Immediately after Cyprus’s division in 1974, an agreement between the Northern Cyprus administration and the Turkish government brought around 25,000 Turkish farmers and workers to the island and gave them citizenship rights. This group primarily comprised people who had been displaced by development projects in Turkey and came from many ethnic backgrounds and political persuasions. After 1979, this facilitated migration ended, and Turkish civilians arriving in Northern Cyprus since then have come on their own initiative. Naturalized citizens account for about a third of the citizen population, according to some estimates. Their voting patterns remain pluralistic, with most endorsing conservative parties but many also supporting the CTP.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||3.003 4.004|
While elected officials have generally developed and implemented 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 showed considerable independence from the Turkish government, creating a rift with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that resulted in overt Turkish intervention in the 2020 presidential election. The TRNC coalition government formed in 2019 was more aligned with Ankara’s position on reunification talks with the Republic of Cyprus. Whereas Akıncı had long supported a federal model, for example, the new UBP-led government called for consideration of alternatives, including a two-state solution. After Tatar’s election as president in 2020, the TRNC was expected adhere more closely to Ankara’s policy aims.
|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.
|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.
|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. However, a new information technology law enacted in July 2020 enables the authorities to shut down websites that carry illegal content, including material that is deemed to violate existing laws on libel and insult. Consolidation of private media ownership is also a concern.
|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.
|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 2020.
|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. While the information technology law enacted in July 2020 included provisions that could restrict online speech, no significant enforcement actions were reported during the year.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is guaranteed by the constitution and generally upheld in practice. The health threat posed by COVID-19 resulted in some limitations on public gatherings during 2020, though the restrictions were not considered to be abusive or disproportionate.
|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.
|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. 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.
|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.
|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 2020, but due process has been a concern in the clusters of cases that have emerged. Investigations and dismissals of police officers have been reported, for example, 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. Some Turkish military personnel stationed in Northern Cyprus have been arrested on similar allegations.
|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.
|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 minority communities live in enclaves and suffer from social and economic disadvantages. The small Kurdish population 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.
|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 October 2020, with Ankara’s support, the government partially opened 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. The action was seen as part of the Turkish government’s bid to assist Tatar’s presidential election campaign.
During 2020, the government installed hundreds of surveillance cameras in a integrated system across the territory. Similar systems have been deployed in Turkey to monitor the population, particularly in cities. In Northern Cyprus, the cameras were installed even in small villages, and it was not clear how the information collected would be used. They were expected to be operated by police, but the chain of command for the Turkish Cypriot police is tied to the Turkish military.
|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.
|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 multiple surveys in recent years, about one in three women have experienced such violence. 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.
|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. During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, many temporary workers from Turkey were returned to that country without pay. The pandemic led to hardships for many local workers as well, though civil servants received their pay without interruption even during the lockdown period.
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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