Northern Cyprus * | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Northern Cyprus *

Northern Cyprus *

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)


Parliamentary elections in April 2009 brought the opposition antiunification National Unity Party to power. Meanwhile, talks between the leaders of the north and south again failed to produce results.

Cyprus gained independence from Britain 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 that ruled Greece, staged an unsuccessful coup aimed at union. 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 communities are almost completely separated in the south and north, respectively.
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.
Reunification talks accelerated after a more receptive Turkish government was elected in 2002, as well as added pressure for an agreement from the European Union (EU), the United States, and the United Nations. A pro-unification TRNC government led by Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Talat was elected in 2003.
In April 2004, a reunification plan proposed by then UN secretary general Kofi Annan was put to a vote in simultaneous, separate referendums on both sides of the island. Amid accusations that the proposed plan favored the Turkish side, 76 percent of Greek Cypriots voted against the plan, while 65 percent of Turkish Cypriots, led by the Talat government, voted in favor. With the island still divided, only Greek Cyprus joined the EU as planned in May 2004. The EU had used the prospect of membership as a bargaining tool to push for reunification, and since EU membership was granted, a new plan became more difficult to achieve.
Talat’s Republican Turkish Party (CTP) won the 2005 legislative elections, governing in coalition with the Democratic Party (DP) of Serdar Denktash, son of outgoing president Rauf Denktash. Meanwhile, Talat defeated National Unity Party (UBP) leader Dervish Eroglu, 56 percent to 23 percent, in presidential elections held the same year. When three deputies resigned to form the new, progovernment Free Party in September 2006, the coalition collapsed and Serdar Denktash quit the government. The DP and the 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. Prime Minister Ferdi Sabit Soyer kept his post when his CTP formed a new coalition government with the Free Party.
The UBP, which favors stronger ties to Turkey and draws many of its supporters from among the Turkish immigrant population, won legislative elections held in April 2009, capturing 26 of 50 seats. Polls indicated that voters turned against the CTP, which secured just 15 seats, for failing to achieve reunification and because of the economic downturn. The DP won five seats, and the Free Party and the Communal Democracy Party each captured two. UBP leader and former prime minister Eroglu was again selected as prime minister. The UBP victory was considered potentially damaging to reunification talks, which are led by the president but require the prime minister’s support.
No major progress was made in talks between Talat and Greek Cypriot president Tassos Papadopoulos during 2009. In September,Eroglu claimed that more than 50 percent of Turkish Cypriots supported maintaining two separate states.
Turkey’s investigations into the alleged secretive ultranationalist group, Ergenekon, spread to Cyprus in 2009 amid allegations that the group had used money and threats to increase electoral support for Eroglu in the late 1990s. A separateinquiry requested in April into whether Eroglu or Rauf Denktash had ties to the group was still pending at year’s end.

Economic opportunities in the north are more limited than in the south. The economy depends heavily on the government of Turkey, and the public sector provides most jobs. State salaries have been frozen for three years due to austerity measures imposed by Turkey, while the cost of living has increased. Unemployment stands at 13 percent and 24 percent for 18 to 24 year olds. However, Talat and Christofias jointly supported a business initiative in 2009 to build stronger economic links between the two communities. Also in 2009, southern Cyprus approved a EUR 259 million ($345 million) aid package for the Turkish Cypriot community after years of delay.

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 UBP, which has opposed unification, and the pro-unification CTP.
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 remain problems. After the 2009 elections, Serdar Denktash announced that all TRNC political parties had bought votes and admitted to distributing EUR 10,000 ($13,300) himself. The TRNC is not listed separately on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of the press is generally respected, though some problems persist. The criminal code allows authorities to jail journalists for what they write, and the government has been hostile to the independent press. The government does not restrict access to the internet.
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 unionmembers have been subject to harassment. Protesters were arrested and some injured during November demonstrations against economic austerity measures.
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.
Census results released in 2007 showed that about half of the north’s population consisted 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. Male homosexuality is punishable with jail time, and while this is rarely enforced, homosexuals do face discrimination.
There are no direct flights between northern Cyprus and the rest of the world due to Greek Cypriot resistance and international regulations which restrict the operation of the north’s ports and airports. However, north-south trade on the island has continued to increase since restrictions were loosened after the 2004 referendum on reunification. 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, so thousands have obtained Republic of Cyprus passports since the option became available in 2004. However, in 2008, Turkey began forbidding Turkish Cypriots from leaving the country through Turkey without passports from the north.
In 2005, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the TRNC must take more effective steps to address the restitution of Greek Cypriots who had owned property in the north before the island’s division. In 2006, the northern authorities announced the formation of a property commission to adjudicate complaints. The commission, which the south does not recognize, had resolved 81 cases out of 432 applications by November 2009, although critics claim that compensation amounts are far below the value of the property. In January 2009, the property commission’s effectiveness came into question after the ECHR ruled that all domestic remedies had been exhausted in the case of eight Greek Cypriots who had owned land in the north and had not appealed to the commission. However, the ECHR endorsed a separate commission decision in July in which Turkey agreed to return part of a Greek Cypriot’s former property along with some financial compensation. Also in July,the property commission announced settlements in two other cases which would return large pieces of land to Greek Cypriots and provide cash compensation, representing the largest compensation settlements decided by the commission to date.

Legal provisions for equal pay for women are not always enforced, especially in blue-collar jobs. 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. The TRNC is a destination for trafficking in women, and little effort has been made to address this problem.

Explanatory Note: 

See also the country report for Cyprus.