Northern Cyprus*

PR Political Rights 27 40
CL Civil Liberties 49 60
Last Year's Score & Status
77 100 Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.
* Indicates a territory as opposed to an independent country.

header1 Note

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 or occupied 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. Civil liberties are generally upheld, and the multiparty political system is largely democratic, though it has experienced increasing interference from the Turkish government. Other ongoing concerns include corruption, discrimination against minority communities, and human trafficking.

header3 Key Developments in 2022

  • The ruling right-wing nationalist National Unity Party (UBP) won parliamentary elections in January, and UBP lawmaker Ünal Üstel was chosen as prime minister in May. His predecessor, UBP leader Faiz Sucuoğlu, had struggled to form a government amid alleged political interference from Ankara.
  • Greek Cypriot peace activist Andreas Soutzis was arrested in Northern Cyprus in August, tried by a military court in September, and sentenced to a month in prison on charges of illegally photographing military areas. He was released in October and banned from returning to the north.
  • Journalists and ordinary internet users encountered growing pressure on free expression during the year. At least two people were arrested for allegedly insulting the president on social media, and several journalists faced criminal charges or other forms of reprisal for their work.

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? 2.002 4.004

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. 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. In the week before the second-round vote, the UBP distributed favors in villages, while Tatar’s government disbursed financial aid.

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 formed a coalition government, but he resigned in October 2021 amid setbacks including the loss of his majority and a leaked recording that implicated him in extramarital sexual activity. His successor, Faiz Sucuoğlu, struggled to form a government after the January 2022 parliamentary elections, allegedly due to interference from Ankara. He was eventually replaced by UBP lawmaker Ünal Üstel—as prime minister in May and as party chair in September.

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.

While legislative elections have generally been regarded as open and competitive, the snap January 2022 balloting drew the lowest voter turnout in TRNC history, at 57.6 percent. The ruling UBP won 24 seats, up slightly from 21 in 2018, while the main opposition group, the center-left Republican Turkish Party (CTP), increased its share of seats from 12 to 18. Among smaller parties, the Democratic Party (DP) and the People’s Party (HP) each took three seats, and the Rebirth Party (YDP), a right-wing group backed primarily by settlers from Turkey, took two. The TDP won no seats for the first time in its history.

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 have generally been considered free and fair, though the degree of Turkish government interference in the 2020 presidential vote called this into question.

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. Five parties currently hold seats in the legislature, though only one represents the political left. 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 transfers of power between rival parties over the past two decades, with shifts in both the presidency and the premiership. The opposition retains a strong position 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? 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 engaged in an explicit campaign of inducements and threats against Akıncı and in support of his main rival, Tatar. The ruling UBP’s patronage network depends on economic support from Turkey. Since Tatar’s election as president, pressure from Turkish government representatives has complicated both government formation and leadership struggles within the UBP.

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? 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 2022 elections, women won 11 seats out of 50, a two-seat improvement compared with the previous legislature. No female candidates ran in the 2020 presidential race.

There have been recurring questions about the number of TRNC citizens originally from Turkey, their voting habits, and the manner in which they acquired citizenship. Such 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. The UBP-led administration has been accused of distributing citizenship to Turkish nationals at the request of Ankara, but no official figures are available.

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? 2.002 4.004

While elected officials have traditionally developed and implemented policies and legislation without direct interference from Ankara, the TRNC remains diplomatically, militarily, and financially dependent on Turkey, and this dependence allows the Turkish government to influence policymaking.

Former 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. UBP-led governments have since shown greater public deference to Ankara on policy and personnel matters, but they have also been marked by significant instability, including repeated struggles to achieve a parliamentary quorum amid boycotts by opposition lawmakers.

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 related 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 government information, there has been very little progress in making 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. The most recent census was conducted in 2011.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 3.003 4.004

Freedom of the press is guaranteed by law, and TRNC authorities have historically respected 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, and the problem appeared to intensify in 2022. The head of the Foreign Press Association resigned in April, citing complaints from the president about an article he had written. In July, Turkish Cypriot journalist Aysu Basri Akter was detained at an airport in Turkey and deported on national security grounds, adding to a pattern of such expulsions targeting outspoken TRNC citizens. A journalist who had been detained and expelled from Turkey in 2021, press workers’ union leader Ali Kişmir, was informed by TRNC authorities in February 2022 that he had been charged with insulting the security forces. Among other cases during the year, journalist Kazim Denizci was arrested in November and charged with aiding a terrorist organization by disseminating content from a Kurdish news agency.

Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 3 due to increased pressure on critical journalists from Turkish and Turkish Cypriot authorities, including a series of cases in which journalists and others were detained and deported while attempting to travel to Turkey.

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 Greek Orthodox churches, and permission is required to hold services in such churches. 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 an attempted coup there in 2016, no similar purges have occurred in the TRNC.

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 in Northern Cyprus, and individuals have rarely faced repercussions for expressing their political views on social media. However, the 2020 information technology law included provisions that could restrict online speech, and in 2022 at least two individuals were charged with insulting the president on the social media platform Facebook.

Personal expression in the territory continued to be threatened by the pattern of cases in which TRNC citizens have been detained and deported when they attempted to enter Turkey. Those targeted were generally individuals—including but not limited to journalists—who had aired critical views on the Turkish government or positive views regarding Cypriot reunification.

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. Demonstrations proceeded without serious impediments during 2022, including a September protest by professional associations and opposition parties against the construction of a new government complex donated by Ankara.

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. 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.

Civilians can face charges in military courts, which have fewer due process safeguards. In August 2022, Greek Cypriot peace activist Andreas Soutzis was arrested for illegal possession of a walkie-talkie and for taking photographs near a military zone. A civilian court gave him a warning for the first alleged offense, but he was tried by a military court on the photography charge, receiving a sentence of one month in prison in September. He was released in early October and forbidden from returning to the TRNC.

There were no large-scale purges of TRNC security forces or other public employees in connection with the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, 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. There were no new arrests in 2022, but trials of previously detained suspects continued.

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 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. However, as of mid-2022, 110 asylum seekers resided in the territory under the mandate of the UN refugee agency. In recent years, tens of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers, including many from African countries, have arrived in Northern Cyprus on student visas and either faced exploitative working conditions or crossed into the south to file asylum applications, straining the Republic of Cyprus’s capacity to process them.

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. However, in response to large numbers of migrants and asylum seekers crossing from north to south, the Republic of Cyprus has imposed new checkpoint restrictions, and in April 2022 it announce plans to install an electronic surveillance system along the buffer zone.

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. As of 2022, parts of Varosha remained open to visitors but not to resettlement.

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 multiple surveys in recent years, about one in three women have experienced such violence. However, figures released in 2019 suggested that reporting of abuse was increasing significantly.

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. 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.

In 2021–22, there were nearly 44,000 students from Turkey and more than 50,000 foreign students from another 145 countries in the TRNC. Many young people are brought to the island by traffickers under the false impression that they would be given a student visa and also be able to work legally; in other cases, they arrive with plans to study but have their passports seized and are forced to work. There is evidence of cooperation between Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot traffickers, with the latter smuggling workers from north to south.

On Northern Cyprus

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  • Global Freedom Score

    76 100 free