Cyprus | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2010

2010 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Complaints against the police, especially for corrupt activities and abuse of detainees, made headlines in Cyprus in 2009. Meanwhile, in November, police rescued 110 Romanian workers from a camp where they were allegedly being held and forced to work without pay.

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 subsequently 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, when AKEL leader Demetris Christofias 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 has continued to meet with the Northern Cypriot leader regularly.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

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 seat in parliament. 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 and seven in parliament.
Corruption is not a major problem in Cyprus. 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. Several corruption scandals involving the police were uncovered in 2009, including an officer who helped a murderer escape from prison and another who attempted to buy a rocket launcher while claiming to work on an arms-trafficking case. Cyprus was ranked 27 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2009 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. Parliamentary hearings on freedom of information in May 2009 indicated that many legal requests for information are not fulfilled, mostly due to lack of resources. Although Turkish Cypriot journalists can enter the south, Turkish journalists based in the north have reported difficulties crossing the border. In April,a journalist was threatened by a mob during a march marking the fifth anniversary of the rejection of the Annan plan. 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. In September 2009, more than 100 Muslims of two differing sects clashed at a mosque in the capital; nearly all involved were immigrants. The police controversially arrested 150 people in a subsequent sweep; 36 were found to be illegal and faced deportation, while the remainder were released. State schools use textbooks containing negative language about Turkish Cypriots and Turkey.
Freedoms of association and assembly are respected. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) generally operate without government interference. 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. However, the ECHR ruled against Cyprus in 2009 for failure to provide a timely trial; the court case in question lasted nearly six years. In 2008, the Cyprus ombudswoman issued complaints on behalf of asylum-seekers who were indefinitely detained in Nicosia’s prison; while the situation has improved somewhat, long-term detention of migrants continues. The Council of Europe and other groups have noted cases of police brutality, including targeted beatings of minorities. There were 110 complaints reported against the police in 2008, sparking 42 investigations; 54 complaints concerned a violation of human rights. In March 2009, a black Cypriot sued the police after allegedly racially-motivated physical abuse. Also in March, 10 plain-clothes police officers who were videotaped beating two students in 2005 were cleared of all charges in a controversial criminal court decision; a Supreme Court appeals process began in November. Prison overcrowding has decreased but remains a problem.
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. However, Turkish Cypriots in the south have reported difficulty obtaining identity cards and other documents, as well as harassment and discrimination. Asylum-seekers face regular discrimination, especially in employment, and the ombudswoman continues to highlight discrimination against homosexuals.
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. A 1991 law states that property left by Turkish Cypriots belongs to the state. Several key cases in 2009 left the international status of the property commission unresolved, though it continues to issue decisions on property disputes.
Gender discrimination in the workplace, sexual harassment, and violence against women are problems. Local NGOs reported in 2009 that 80,000 Greek Cypriot women are subject to domestic violence, as well as an additional 30,000 foreign women. While the government has made genuine progress to prevent human trafficking, Cyprus remains a transit and destination country, and prosecution is weak. Slave labor has been occasionally uncovered in Cyprus. In November 2009, police saved 110 Romanian workers from a camp where they were allegedly being held and forced to work without pay.
Explanatory Note: 

The numerical ratings and status listed above do not reflect conditions in Northern Cyprus, which is examined in a separate report.