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.
- The internal checkpoints between the island’s north and south reopened in June, after several months of strict limitations prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- In May, the government announced an investigation in response to press reports alleging that TRNC citizenships were being granted through bribery or for political reasons in advance of parliamentary elections.
- After a series of parliamentary boycotts and coalition difficulties that deprived the government of a working majority, Prime Minister Ersan Saner of the right-wing nationalist National Unity Party (UBP) resigned in October. He was replaced in November by newly selected UBP leader Faiz Sucuoğlu, who formed an interim minority government, and elections were formally scheduled for January 2022.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
The president, who serves as head of state and represents the TRNC internationally, is popularly elected to five-year terms. In the 2020 presidential election, incumbent Mustafa Akıncı ran as an independent with the backing of the social democratic Communal Democracy Party (TDP). He was defeated by then prime minister Ersin 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. Among other actions by Turkish representatives, the communications adviser for the Turkish vice president arrived to aid Tatar’s campaign, and 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. 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.
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 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. However, the coalition struggled to achieve a quorum amid parliamentary boycotts by opposition parties, and it lost its slim majority in July 2021, when a leader of YDP announced his resignation and his intention to form a new party. Finally, in October 2021, the prime minister resigned. Faiz Sucuoğlu was chosen as the new UBP leader that month, and in early November President Tatar gave him the mandate to form an interim government that would serve until parliamentary elections could be held. The early elections were then scheduled for January 2022.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
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, which were generally regarded as open and competitive, the UBP led with 21 seats, followed by the center-left Republican Turkish Party (CTP) with 12 seats, the People’s Party (HP) with 9, the TDP and DP with 3 each, and the YDP with 2.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?
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?
Turkish Cypriots are free to organize in political parties, and several parties compete in practice. Six parties were represented in the legislature as of 2021, 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?
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. A series of different governing coalitions have controlled the cabinet since the 2018 legislative elections, and opposition parties retained a strong position in the assembly as of 2021.
|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?
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 engaged in an explicit campaign of inducements and threats against Akıncı and in support of his main rival, Tatar. Support for Tatar’s UBP 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 2020, 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 and an interim selection, Saner, who was supported by Ankara. After Saner’s premiership ended with his resignation in October 2021, Sucuoğlu—who had been the favorite to win the original contest in 2020—was elected party leader and became interim prime minister in November.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?
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.
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 the Turkish invasion and 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?
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. Under President Tatar and the right-wing coalition that formed after his victory, the government was marked by a greater public deference to Ankara on policy and personnel matters, and by significant instability, including repeated struggles to achieve a parliamentary quorum amid boycotts by opposition lawmakers. Among other signs of Turkish interference during 2021, the government agreed in July to remove the territory’s mufti—a civil servant in the TRNC—and replace him with a theologian from Turkey. The government also faced allegations that it was naturalizing citizens in large numbers for political reasons under pressure from Ankara. Meanwhile, the denial of quorum disrupted work on key legislation, including the annual budget bill.
Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 because the government demonstrated greater deference to Ankara on domestic policy and struggled to function in the face of opposition boycotts that deprived the parliament of a quorum.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?
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. In May 2021, the government announced an investigation in response to media reports that raised concerns about bribery in the granting of TRNC citizenship.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?
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 nationals as TRNC citizens.
|Are there free and independent media?
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 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. Some journalists have reported threats and harassment in response to their work, including those who examine suspected ties between state authorities and organized crime.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?
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?
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 2021.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?
There are no significant restrictions on freedom of private discussion in Northern Cyprus, and individuals generally do not face repercussions for expressing their political views on social media. While the 2020 information technology law included provisions that could restrict online speech, no major enforcement actions have been reported.
However, in a development that could affect personal expression in the territory, at least three TRNC citizens who intended to enter Turkey were detained at Turkish airports during 2021 and deported because of their political opinions on issues like Cypriot reunification. Among these were the head of the local Press Workers’ Union and the press officer for former president Akıncı. Despite repeated inquiries, neither Ankara nor the TRNC government would release a list of people who may be subject to such entry restrictions.
|Is there freedom of assembly?
Freedom of assembly is guaranteed by the constitution and generally upheld in practice. The health threat posed by COVID-19 has resulted in some limitations on public gatherings since 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?
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?
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?
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?
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 2021, 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?
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?
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?
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. Checkpoints at the crossings were reopened in June 2021 after several months of closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A number of former civilian municipalities have been under Turkish military control since 1974, with bans on settlement or resettlement. In 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. After President Tatar announced plans to move forward with a second phase of the reopening in July 2021, the Republic of Cyprus government said it would revoke the passports of TRNC officials involved in the process.
During 2020, the government installed hundreds of surveillance cameras in an 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?
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?
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 late 2019 suggested that reporting of 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?
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 early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, many temporary workers from Turkey were returned to that country without pay. The pandemic has led to hardships for many local workers as well, though civil servants received their pay without interruption even during lockdowns.
Human trafficking and forced prostitution are serious problems, despite a nominal legal ban on prostitution. Foreign women employed in the territory’s nightclub sector are particularly exposed to exploitative conditions. The TRNC formally criminalized trafficking for the first time in 2020, but it does not fund enforcement efforts or provide protection or services to victims. Observers also report that some authorities are complicit in trafficking.
On Northern Cyprus
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