Northern Cyprus * | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Northern Cyprus *

Northern Cyprus *

Freedom in the World 2002

2002 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


The urgency of continuing United Nations-sponsored proximity talks between Greek Cypriot leader Glafcos Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash increased in 2001 as Cyprus moved closer to joining the European Union (EU). Denktash had withdrawn from a sixth round of talks in late 2000, but in December 2001 he was persuaded to launch a new peace process after the first direct talks between the leaders in more than four years were held.

Annexed to Britain in 1914, Cyprus gained independence in 1960 after a ten-year guerrilla campaign seeking Cyprus's union with Greece. In July 1974, Greek Cypriot national guard members, backed by the military junta in power in Greece, staged an unsuccessful coup aimed at unification. Turkey invaded five days later, seized 37 percent of the island, and expelled 200,000 Greek Cypriots from the north. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus declared its independence in 1982, but so far has been recognized only by Turkey, which maintains more than 35,000 troops in the territory and provides an estimated $200 million in annual assistance. The Green Line, a buffer zone controlled by a 1,200-strong UN peacekeeping force, has partitioned Cyprus since 1974. The capital, Lefkosa (Nicosia), remains the world's only divided capital city, and tensions and intermittent violence between the two populations have plagued the island since independence.

Negotiations on the future of the island have stalled over issues of security, territory, property and compensation, and the distribution of power on the island. The Greek Cypriots favor a federation with local autonomy, free movement, and a strong central government. Turkish Cypriots favor a confederation of two independent states, with shared bodies holding very limited powers. Instead of a central assembly, Turkish Cypriots propose a consultative council and joint overseas representation. Proximity talks broke down in 1997 when the EU announced its decision to open accession negotiations with Greek Cyprus. By the end of 1999, goodwill between Greece and Turkey in the aftermath of devastating earthquakes in both countries, and EU acceptance of Turkey as an official candidate for membership, brought the two sides back to the negotiating table. Talks stalled in late 2000 when Denktash insisted that northern Cyprus be recognized as a separate state and pulled out of UN-sponsored negotiations, but they were unexpectedly restarted in December 2001.

The north is far less prosperous than the south. An embargo by the Greek Cypriots significantly hampers the northern economy. Turkish Cypriots' standard of living is roughly a third that of Greek Cypriots, and the north is almost totally reliant on the Cypriot Republic for a free but insufficient power supply that suffers frequent outages, from 12 to 14 hours per day. However, a vibrant black market economy provides for a great deal of unaccounted-for wealth. In January 2001, Turkey agreed to provide the northern republic with a new loan of $350 million.

The debate over the role of the Turkish army in the territory escalated during 2000 when Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Akinci called for a constitutional amendment to make local police and firefighters accountable to the interior minister rather than the Turkish Cypriot armed forces, which are led by a Turkish general (the general responded by accusing Akinci of treason). In September, protesters denounced Denktash's "intransigence" over the division of Cyprus, and in October several thousand demonstrators rallied against a government spending package in a show of anger over economic dependence on Turkey. In late July 2001, some 6,000 people took to the streets, waving EU banners and chanting anti-Ankara and anti-Denktash slogans. Turkish Cypriots' increasing disapproval of their leader weakens his position in negotiations for a settlement in the divided island.

Nevertheless, Denktash retains a high degree on control over Cypriot politics as well as foreign policy, which includes the all-important negotiating process. In April 2000, he won a fourth elected five-year term as president when his closest challenger, Turkish Cypriot Prime Minister Dervis Eroglu, withdrew from the race before a runoff vote. Eroglu's coalition government fell apart in May 2001 after his center-right National Unity Party withdrew from a partnership with the liberal Communal Liberation Party (led by Akinci), reportedly as a result of differences over how to solve the Cyprus conflict as well as the role of Turkey in the island's affairs.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Turkish Cypriots can change the government of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) democratically. The presidential-legislative system of government calls for the election of a leader and a national assembly at least every five years. Presidential elections have been considered generally free and fair by observers. The National Unity Party (UBP) took the most seats in the 50-member national assembly following the December 1998 general elections. At least six other parties participated in those elections, four of them winning seats. Some 1,000 Greek and Maronite residents in the north are disenfranchised in Turkish Cypriot elections, but many vote in Cypriot Republic elections.

The judiciary is independent, and trials generally meet international standards of fairness. Civilians suspected of violating military zones are tried in military courts, which respect due process but have been accused of pro-military bias. Turkish Cypriot police (who are under the control of the Turkish military) sometimes flout due process rights and abuse and intimidate detainees. Detainees are ordinarily held no longer than 24 hours without charge.

Private newspapers and periodicals offer a wide range of views, while at least 11 new private radio and four private television stations broadcast alongside government stations. International broadcasts are available without interference. The small left-wing newspaper Avrupa has faced judicial harassment unprecedented in the TRNC for its criticism of Denktash, his policy on the division of the island, and the Turkish military presence in the territory. In May 2000, hearings began before a criminal court on 75 lawsuits against the paper for "instigating hatred against the TRNC and the Turkish army." Four journalists from the paper were arrested in July for "espionage," and in May 2001, Avrupa's printing house was the target of a bomb attack. In November, the Union of Cyprus Journalists (based in the Greek half of the island) expressed support for the paper after its equipment and assets were seized by authorities on the pretext that it had not paid taxes.

Advocates for Greek Cypriots living in the northern city of Karpassia claim that these individuals are denied freedom of movement, free speech, property ownership, and access to Greek media. Outstanding property claims arising from the 1974 division and population exchange remain an obstacle to a final peace and demilitarization settlement on the island. Approximately 85 percent of the land in the north is claimed by its original Greek Cypriot owners. In May 2001, the European Court for Human Rights found Turkey guilty of widespread human rights abuses arising from its 1974 invasion of northern Cyprus, including violations of the right to life, liberty, security, and freedom of expression.

Turkish Cypriot authorities generally respect freedom of assembly and association, and there are numerous political parties, trade unions, and nongovernmental organizations. About 99 percent of Turkish Cypriots are Sunni Muslim. There is a small Baha'i community, and there are some 650 Greek Orthodox and Maronite residents in the north. All reportedly worship freely. Turkish Cypriots have difficulty traveling to other countries because travel documents issued by the TRNC are recognized only by Turkey. Some restrictions exist on travel to and from the south, but in May 2000 the Turkish Cypriot authorities eliminated the system of fees for crossing the buffer zone. Cypriots from both sides may freely visit religious sites in each other's territory.

Women are underrepresented in government and politics. A 1998 law grants Turkish Cypriot women who marry non-Muslim men a fair distribution of assets in case of divorce. Legal provisions that require equal pay for equal work are not respected in all sectors. Workers may form independent trade unions, bargain collectively, and strike.