Freedom in the World
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Demetris Christofias of the Progressive Party of the Working People (AKEL), a communist party, won the February 2008 presidential election. His victory was seen as an opportunity to restart negotiations on reunification, which continued throughout the year.
Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960 after a five-year guerrilla campaign by partisans demanding union with Greece. In July 1974, Greek Cypriot National Guard members, backed by Greece’s military junta, staged an unsuccessful coup aimed at such unification. Five days later, Turkey invaded northern Cyprus, seized control of 37 percent of the island, and expelled 200,000 ethnic Greeks from the north. Today, the Greek and Turkish communities are almost completely separated in the south and north, respectively.
A buffer zone known as the Green Line has divided Cyprus, including the capital, 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, a move recognized only by Turkey.
Reunification talks accelerated after a more receptive Turkish government was elected in 2002; the European Union (EU), the United States, and the United Nations added pressure for an agreement, and a new pro-unification government was elected in Northern Cyprus in 2003. Then UN secretary-general Kofi Annan led a round of negotiations that collapsed in 2004 after no consensus was reached. As previously agreed, Annan then proposed a plan that was put to a vote in simultaneous, separate referendums on both sides of the island in April 2004. 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.
In parliamentary elections held in the south in 2006, the Democratic Party (DIKO) won 11 seats, while the Democratic Rally (DISY) and Progressive Party of the Working People (AKEL), a communist party, each took 18 seats; three other parties captured the remaining 9 seats. The 2004 referendum and the prospects for reunification were major campaign issues, and the results were considered a signal of support for President Tassos Papadopoulos of DIKO and his rejection of the UN plan.
However, this sentiment was reversed in the 2008 presidential election. The top two candidates in the first round in February were AKEL leader Demetris Christofias and DISY candidate Ioannis Kasoulides, followed by Papadopoulos in third. Christofias ultimately won 53 percent of the runoff vote, making him the only communist head of state in Europe. His cabinet includes ministers from DIKO as well as the Movement for Social Democrats (EDEK).
Christofias’s election paved the way for new reunification talks, and he subsequently met with the Northern Cypriot leader regularly. However no major breakthroughs were made, and the negotiators ended the year less hopeful about progress.
Cyprus is an electoral democracy. Suffrage is universal, and elections are free and fair. The 1960 constitution established an ethnically representative system designed to protect the interests of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots; the Greek Cypriots maintain that the constitution still applies to the entire island.
The president is elected by popular vote to serve a five-year term. The unicameral House of Representatives has 80 seats filled through proportional representation for five-year terms. Of these, 24 are reserved for the Turkish Cypriot community, but the Turkish Cypriot representatives withdrew in 1964 and have not been replaced to date. Instead, the Turkish Cypriots maintain their own parliament in the northern part of the island.
Following a ruling against Cyprus by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2004, a law was passed allowing Turkish Cypriots living in the south to vote and run for office in Greek Cypriot elections. About 390 registered to vote before the 2008 presidential election, up from 270 in 2006, when one also ran for a parliament seat. Turkish Cypriots cannot run for president, as the constitution states that a Greek Cypriot should hold that post and a Turkish Cypriot should be vice president. The Maronites (Catholics of Lebanese descent), Armenians, and Latins (Catholics of European descent) elect special nonvoting representatives. Women are very poorly represented politically, with only one woman in the cabinet.
Corruption is not a significant problem in Cyprus. A 2004 anticorruption law instituted compulsory asset declarations by state officials, although past evidence has shown that many do not comply with the law. New laws were passed in 2008to prevent conflicts of interest by government officials and to make it a criminal offense to withhold information on bribery in defense procurement. The auditor-general has reported serious financial mismanagement in government departments, and in 2008 the opposition accused the president of cronyism in some of his appointments.Cyprus was ranked 31 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of speech is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected. A vibrant independent press frequently criticizes the authorities. Several private television and radio stations in the Greek Cypriot community compete effectively with public stations. In March 2008a court orderedthe daily paper Politis to pay approximately $130,000 in libel damages, the highest such fine ever imposed on a paper in Cyprus, for articles on a case of sexual harassment. The local journalists’ union said the damages were a “serious threat to the freedom of the press.” Although Turkish Cypriot journalists can enter the south, Turkish journalists based in the north have reported difficulties crossing the border. Access to the internet is unrestricted.
Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution and protected in practice. Nearly all inhabitants of the south are Orthodox Christians, and some discrimination against other religions has been alleged. State schools use textbooks containing negative language about Turkish Cypriots and Turkey. The education minister in 2008 proposed revising history textbooks to promote mutual respect between the two communities, sparking resistance that included the political opposition and the island’s archbishop.
Freedoms of association and assembly are respected. Nongovernmental organizations generally operate without government interference, although they have been accused of inactivity. In 2008, a women’s group was prosecuted for accounting fraud, and the head of a foreigner-rights organization was arrested for playing music without a license at a protest. Both claim to have been treated unfairly due to their negative stance toward the government, something that is rare in Cyprus. Workers have the right to strike and to form trade unions without employer authorization.
The independent judiciary operates according to the British tradition, upholding due process rights. In 2008 the Cyprus ombudswoman issued complaints on behalf of asylum-seekers who were indefinitely detained in Nicosia’s prison; they launched a hunger strike in September. Prison overcrowding has decreased but remains a problem. The Council of Europe and other groups have noted police and prison brutality, including targeted beatings of minorities. A bureau established in 2006 to investigate complaints against the police reported 30 complaints in the first five months of 2008, although most were found to be groundless. The 10 plainclothes police who were videotaped beating two men in 2005 were acquitted of torture and causing grievous bodily harm in September 2008 but still face other charges in an ongoing trial.
A 1975 agreement between the two sides of the island governs treatment of minorities. Turkish Cypriots are now entitled to Republic of Cyprus passports, and thousands have obtained them. In practice, Turkish Cypriots in the south have reported difficulty obtaining identity cards and other documents, as well as harassment and discrimination. A 2008 Eurobarometer survey on discrimination found that 61 percent of Cypriots had problems with people of other races. A gang of youths assaulted foreigners indiscriminately one night in June 2008, apparently in retaliation for an attack on their friend, and a series of racist attacks occurred against citizens of foreign descent in December 2008. The ombudswoman’s reports in 2007 and 2008 have highlighted discrimination against homosexuals, and 73 percent of Cypriot respondents to the Eurobarometer survey admitted that they engaged in such discrimination. Asylum-seekers face regular discrimination, especially in employment.
Since accession to the EU in 2004, all citizens can move freely throughout the island, and a key border crossing in Nicosia was opened in 2008. While the Greek Cypriots have thwarted attempts to lift international trade and travel bans on the north, trade continues to increase between the two sides.
The status of property abandoned by those moving across the Green Line beginning in 1974 is a point of contention in reunification talks. Under changes in the law in the north, Greek Cypriots can appeal to a new property commission to resolve disputes, but the government in the south does not recognize this commission. In 2008 the ECHR upheld a land swap arranged through the property commission by Greek Cypriot Mike Tymvios and a Turkish Cypriot who owned land in the south; the ruling sparked controversy over whether it was also endorsing the property commission, and it generated a conflict with the southern government, which had custody of the southern land and refused to hand it over. A 1991 law states that property left by Turkish Cypriots belongs to the state, and in 2007 the Supreme Court rejected the appeal of a Turkish Cypriot living in the north who sought to regain his land in the south.
Workplace gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and violence against women are problems. According to police, there was a 5 percent increase in reports of domestic violence in 2007. The police have set up a Human Trafficking Prevention Bureau, and a government task force is preparing an action plan to prevent trafficking, but Cyprus remains a transit and destination country. So-called artiste visas—for women coming to Cyprus to work in cabarets, where they are often exploited—were abolished in late 2008.
The numerical ratings and status listed above do not reflect conditions in Northern Cyprus, which is examined in a separate report.