Northern Cyprus * | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Northern Cyprus *

Northern Cyprus *

Freedom in the World 2008

2008 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


A survey released in 2007 found that as many as three-quarters of northern Cypriot women are victims of physical abuse at some point in their lives. Also during the year, progress on resolving the division of the island continued to stall.

The Ottoman Empire allowed Britain to administer Cyprus beginning in 1878, and Britain annexed the island in 1914. Cyprus gained independence in 1960 after a 10-year guerrilla campaign by partisans demanding 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 union with the mainland. Five days later, Turkey invaded northern Cyprus, seized control of 37 percent of the island, and expelled 200,000 Greek Cypriots from the north. Today the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities are almost completely separated into their respective enclaves.

A buffer zone called the Green Line has divided Cyprus, including the capital city of Nicosia, since 1974. UN resolutions stipulate that Cyprus is a single country of which the northern third is illegally occupied. In 1983, Turkish-controlled Cyprus declared its independence as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), an entity recognized only by Turkey.

The Turkish government elected in 2002 was much more supportive of the unification of Cyprus than its predecessors, since Turkey’s chances of European Union (EU) membership had been linked to a resolution of the island’s division. Significant pressure from the EU and the United States, as well as UN intervention, also helped move the two sides closer to a settlement. A pro-unification TRNC government led by Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Talat was elected in 2003.

However, a promising round of unification negotiations led by then UN secretary-general Kofi Annan collapsed in 2004 after no consensus was reached. As agreed, Annan himself then proposed a plan that was put to a vote in simultaneous, separate referendums in northern and southern Cyprus in April 2004. Greek Cypriots, who previously had been more enthusiastic about unification, had reservations about the plan, especially concerning security and international guarantees that the Turkish side would comply. Ultimately, 76 percent of Greek Cypriots voted against the plan, while 65 percent of Turkish Cypriots voted in favor. With the island still divided, only Greek Cyprus joined the EU as scheduled in May 2004. The EU had used the prospect of membership to encourage reunification, but the internationally recognized government’s entry was already assured by the time of the late-April referendum.

The pro-unification government elected in 2003 and the “yes” vote in the 2004 referendum weakened the power of President Rauf Denktash, a unification opponent who had held his post since the north declared independence. He did not run in the April 2005 presidential election. Instead, Talat emerged as the victor in a field of seven candidates, defeating National Unity Party (UBP) leader Dervish Eroglu, 56 percent to 23 percent.

In legislative elections held in February 2005, Talat’s Republican Turkish Party (CTP) won 44 percent of the vote, increasing its share of seats to 24 out of 50. The UBP, which had campaigned against unification in the 2004 referendum, came in second with 32 percent, or 19 seats. Serdar Denktash, the son of Rauf Denktash, led the CTP-allied Democratic Party (DP) to win six seats, an increase of one. The only other party in parliament is the pro-unification Peace and Democracy Party, which dropped from three seats to one.

The ruling CTP-DP coalition had difficulty forming a government after June 2006 by-elections. When three deputies (two from the UBP and one from the DP) resigned to form the new, progovernment Free Party in September, the coalition collapsed, and Serdar Denktash quit the government. The DP and UBP blamed the collapse in part on Turkey, which had cooled to the elder Denktash’s anti-EU and antiunification positions and allegedly extended its disfavor to the son despite his more positive stance on those issues. Turkey was also accused of collusion to weaken the UBP, allegedly disapproving of the party’s nationalist rhetoric. Prime Minister Ferdi Sabit Soyer kept his post when his CTP formed a new coalition government with the Free Party after the September 2006 collapse.

Turkish Cypriots’ support for unification has sparked international efforts to end their isolation. However, the Greek Cypriots have thwarted attempts to lift trade and travel bans on the north. Talks between Talat and Greek Cypriot president Tassos Papadopoulos in July 2006, the first since the 2004 referendum, led to a program of confidence-building measures called the July 8 agreement. The leaders did not meet again until September 2007, at which time talks stalled completely; critics have accused Papadopoulos of having no intention of making progress. Still, trade has increased between the two sides since 2004, and free movement across the Green Line has improved, with more crossing points and looser restrictions. A large aid package from the EU, originally suggested after the referendum and approved in 2006, is mostly devoted to infrastructure projects.

Although the gap in living standards between the north and the south has narrowed, economic opportunities in the north continue to be more limited. The economy depends heavily on the government of Turkey, and the public sector provides most jobs. Many Turkish Cypriots cross the border to work on the Greek side.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Elections in the TRNC are free and fair. The president and 50-seat Assembly are elected to five-year terms. The powers of the president are largely ceremonial; the prime minister is head of government. The main parties are the ruling, pro-unification CTP, in coalition with the new Free Party since September 2006; the UBP, which has opposed unification; and the DP, which left the ruling coalition in September 2006.

The roughly 1,000 Greek and Maronite Christian residents of the north are disenfranchised in the TRNC, but many vote in elections in the southern Republic of Cyprus. Minorities are not represented, and women are underrepresented, in the Assembly.

The government has made efforts to combat corruption in recent years, but graft and lack of transparency are still considered problems. Two ministers from the Free Party were accused in 2007 of receiving bribes from a construction company; one had been let go by the prime minister earlier in the year for “differences of principle.” The TRNC is not listed separately on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

Freedom of the media is generally respected, but problems persist. The criminal code allows the authorities to jail journalists for what they write, and the government has been hostile to the independent press. The editor of the outspoken daily Afrika, for example, has faced hundreds of court summonses for his paper’s criticism of Turkish and Turkish Cypriot officials. The government does not restrict access to the internet. Five foreign journalists were detained and quickly released without charges in February 2007 after carrying out interviews at a meeting on a university campus. The president of the Association of Turkish Cypriot Cartoonists was violently attacked in January, allegedly by nationalists who disagreed with his ideas.

A 1975 agreement with Greek Cypriot authorities provides for freedom of worship, which is generally respected. The government does not restrict academic freedom. In 2004, Turkish Cypriot schools began teaching a less partisan account of Cypriot history, in accordance with Council of Europe recommendations.

The rights of freedom of assembly and association are respected. Civic groups and nongovernmental organizations generally operate without restrictions. Workers may form independent unions, bargain collectively, and strike, although union members have been subject to harassment.

The judiciary is independent, and trials generally meet international standards of fairness. Turkish Cypriot police, under the control of the Turkish military, sometimes fail to respect due process rights, and there have been allegations of abuse of detainees. The police have also been accused of corruption related to narcotics trafficking. Since the TRNC is not recognized by other countries, it has no extradition treaties, and Turkish Cypriots accused of crimes abroad have sometimes fled back to northern Cyprus. However, in 2006–07, a Turkish Cypriot man charged with manslaughter in Britain was similarly charged and sentenced in the TRNC to comply with a British request.

Census results released in 2007 revealed that about half of the north’s population is comprised of indigenous Turkish Cypriots. The rest include people of mainland Turkish origin and many foreign workers, as well as Greek Cypriots and Maronites. The latter three groups face difficulties at Green Line checkpoints and discrimination, and they are allegedly subject to official surveillance.

After the 2004 referendum on unification, the EU attempted to initiate direct trade and flights between northern Cyprus and the rest of the world, but it was unable to circumvent international regulations that control the north’s ports and airports. After joining the bloc, the recognized Cypriot government thwarted several attempts by the EU to pursue its efforts; the German presidency of the EU in the first half of 2007 pushed hard for agreement, and its failure dimmed hopes for future compromise. However, north-south trade on the island did increase after restrictions were loosened in 2004, and new border crossings have opened. In addition, all EU citizens, including Greek Cypriots, can now travel to the north by presenting identity cards and no longer require passports or visas. Most governments do not recognize Turkish Cypriots’ travel documents, but thousands have obtained Republic of Cyprus passports since the option became available in 2004.

The status of property formerly owned by Greek Cypriots in the north is expected to be a major point of contention in any future unification talks. In the past, former property owners have taken their cases to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), to which they could appeal directly due to the lack of an adequate local remedy. The ECHR ruled in April 2005 that the TRNC must institute more effective mechanisms to address the problem. In March 2006, the northern authorities announced the formation of a property commission to adjudicate complaints, although the south disputes its legitimacy. The commission had received more than 200 complaints as of July 2007, and 20 had resulted in some form of compensation, although critics claim that amounts are far below the value of the property.

A 2007 survey found that three-quarters of women were victims of violence at least once in their lives, with most attacks occurring at home. Police have proven unwilling to intervene, and many women choose not to report the crimes, even to friends. There are legal provisions for equal pay for equal work, but these are not always enforced, especially in blue-collar jobs.

Explanatory Note: 

See Cyprus under country reports