Northern Cyprus * | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Northern Cyprus *

Northern Cyprus *

Free
81/100
Overview: 

The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) is a self-declared state recognized only by Turkey. It has a democratic, multiparty political system, and civil liberties are generally upheld. Ongoing concerns include undue political and economic influence from Turkey, corruption, discrimination against minority communities, and human trafficking.

Key Developments: 

Key Developments in 2018:

  • In January, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan incited an attack on Afrika newspaper in which hundreds of demonstrators pelted the building with stones and other objects. Thousands of Turkish Cypriots responded with a march against interference from Ankara and in support of freedom of expression. Several people involved in the newspaper attack were later tried and convicted.
  • Also in January, six parties won seats in parliamentary elections, with no single party taking a majority. Four parties then formed a broad coalition government that excluded two right-wing groups.
  • Two new crossing points along the UN buffer zone between the TRNC and the Republic of Cyprus opened in November as a confidence-building measure ahead of the anticipated renewal of UN-sponsored reunification talks.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

POLITICAL RIGHTS: 31 / 40

A. ELECTORAL PROCESS: 11 / 12

A1.      Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4

The president, who serves as head of state and represents the TRNC internationally, is popularly elected to five-year terms. In 2015, Mustafa Akıncı—backed by the social democratic Communal Democracy Party (TDP)—prevailed in a runoff election with just over 60 percent of the vote, defeating incumbent Derviş Eroğlu, who was supported by the right-wing National Unity Party (UBP).

The president appoints the prime minister and cabinet members, who must have the support of a legislative majority. Following the January 2018 parliamentary elections and the formation of a multiparty coalition, Tufan Erhürman of the center-left Republican Turkish Party (CTP)—which seeks reconciliation with the Greek Cypriots and European Union membership—became prime minister. He replaced Hüseyin Özgürgün of the UBP, which had pursued policies that were seen as more closely aligned with the government in Ankara.

A2.      Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4

For elections to the 50-seat Assembly of the Republic, the TRNC employs a mixed voting system, with the proportional representation component setting a 5 percent vote threshold for parties to win seats. Members serve five-year terms. The UBP led the January 2018 parliamentary elections with 21 seats. However, it was left in opposition after the CTP, with 12 seats, formed a coalition with the centrist-reformist People’s Party (HP), with 9 seats, and the TDP and the center-right Democratic Party (DP), with three seats each. The coalition also excluded the Rebirth  Party (YDP), a right-wing group formed primarily by Turkish settlers that won two seats.

A3.      Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 3 / 4

The Supreme Election Committee is an independent body composed of judges, and elections in the TRNC are generally considered free and fair. In 2018, a complex new election law came into effect that allowed voters to choose a single party, individual candidates from multiple parties, or a combination of the two; voters were also able to choose candidates across more than one multimember constituency. The law made it more complicated to vote for individual candidates and therefore encouraged party voting.

B. POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION: 13 / 16

B1.      Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 4 / 4

Turkish Cypriots are free to organize in political parties, and several parties compete in practice. Six parties were represented in the legislature as of 2018, including two—HP and YDP—that had entered the chamber for the first time after the January elections. Under a 2015 law, parties that receive at least 3 percent of the vote may obtain state funding.

B2.      Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4 / 4

There have been multiple democratic transfers of power between rival parties in both the presidency and the premiership over the past two decades, with Akıncı ousting the incumbent president in the 2015 election. The ideologically diverse parties that formed a governing coalition in 2018 ousted a right-wing government led by the UBP.

B3.      Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group that is not democratically accountable? 3 / 4

Although Turkey continues to exercise considerable influence over the TRNC, it has little direct control over voters, many of whom have recently supported candidates and parties that display independence from Ankara. Ahead of the 2018 elections, the CTP, HP, and TDP had campaigned on promises to reform a patronage-based political system associated with the UBP, in which the distribution of jobs and favors has depended in part on maintaining a smooth flow of economic support from Turkey.

B4.      Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 2 / 4

All adult citizens may vote, but minority rights remain a concern. The few hundred Maronite and Greek Cypriots living in the TRNC are issued special identity cards and are unable to vote in TRNC elections. In 2018, discussions continued regarding the promised reopening of Maronite villages to resettlement and the potential expansion of Maronite political rights in the north, but no concrete actions were taken.

Women have full political rights, and a 2015 law requires 30 percent of a party’s parliamentary candidate list to consist of women. However, women’s political participation is limited in practice, particularly in leadership positions. In the 2018 elections, women won nine seats out of 50, an improvement from four in the previous legislature. Two of the 11 ministers in the new government were women.

C. FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT: 7 / 12

C1.      Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 3 / 4

While elected officials generally develop and implement policies and legislation without direct interference from Ankara, the TRNC remains diplomatically, militarily, and financially dependent on Turkey, and this dependence sometimes allows the Turkish government to influence policymaking.

C2.      Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 2 / 4

Corruption, cronyism in the distribution of civil service jobs, and nepotism are serious impediments to good governance, and the media have exposed a number of scandals in recent years. An October 2018 report based on the methodology of the Corruption Perceptions Index compiled by Transparency International found that 89 percent of businesspeople in Northern Cyprus believe bribery and corruption are problems there.

C3.      Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 2 / 4

Although there is a law providing for access to information, there has been very little progress in making government records available to the public in practice. Information is not always kept in an accessible form, and officials reportedly withhold data on sensitive topics such as the naturalization of Turkish settlers as TRNC citizens. Officials must periodically disclose their personal assets, but the disclosures are not made public.

CIVIL LIBERTIES: 50 / 60

D. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF: 15 / 16

D1.      Are there free and independent media? 4 / 4

Freedom of the press is guaranteed by law, and TRNC authorities generally respect it in practice. The media often carry sharp criticism of both the TRNC and Turkish governments. However, journalists sometimes face obstruction or threats in the course of their work.

In January 2018, a statement by the Turkish president incited a violent attack on the offices of the newspaper Afrika after it published an article that compared Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria with its 1974 occupation of Northern Cyprus. About 500 Turkish nationalists surrounded the building and pelted it with stones and other objects. In response to the attack, an estimated 5,000 Turkish Cypriots held a march against interference from Ankara and in support of freedom of expression. Several of the individuals responsible for the violence were later prosecuted and sentenced to as much as six months in jail. Separately, Afrika’s editor and a colleague were on trial at year’s end for allegedly insulting Erdoğan with a political cartoon published in 2017.

D2.      Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 3 / 4

The TRNC is a secular state and legally guarantees freedom of worship, which is mostly respected in practice. However, authorities continue to impose restrictions on access to churches and otherwise interfere with church services. Christians and non-Sunni Muslims have complained that the government favors Sunni Islam in its policies on religious education and places of worship. The government’s Religious Affairs Department staffs Sunni mosques with imams.

D3.      Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 4 / 4

Academic freedom is generally respected. While large numbers of teachers and professors have been fired or jailed for political reasons in Turkey since 2016, no similar purges had occurred in the TRNC as of 2018.

D4.      Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 4 / 4

There are no significant restrictions on freedom of private discussion, and individuals generally do not face repercussions for expressing their political views on social media.

E. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS: 11 / 12

E1.      Is there freedom of assembly? 4 / 4

Freedom of assembly is guaranteed by the constitution and generally upheld in practice.

E2.      Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 4 / 4

Numerous nongovernmental organizations are registered in the TRNC, and they typically operate without restrictions. Many such groups have worked with Greek Cypriot partners to advance reunification efforts.

E3.      Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 3 / 4

Workers may form independent unions, bargain collectively, and strike, and collective bargaining is reportedly common in the public sector. However, the government can limit strikes in ill-defined essential services, and employers are reportedly able to obstruct unionization in the private sector without legal repercussions.

F. RULE OF LAW: 13 / 16

F1.       Is there an independent judiciary? 4 / 4

The judiciary is independent, and courts have often ruled against the government in recent years. The system is overseen by the Supreme Council of Judicature, which is headed by the president of the Supreme Court and includes that court’s seven judges as well as one member each appointed by the president, the legislature, the attorney general, and the bar association. The council is responsible for judicial appointments, promotions, assignments, and disciplinary measures.

F2.       Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 3 / 4

Although due process rights are typically respected, police have been accused of violating protections against arbitrary detention and coerced confessions in some cases, for example by improperly denying suspects access to a lawyer.

There were no large-scale purges of security forces or other public employees in connection with the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey as of 2018, but due process has been a concern in the few cases that have been reported. For example, a small number of Turkish Cypriot civilians were arrested in 2017 for alleged involvement with the organization of US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, which is considered a terrorist organization in Turkey, and dozens of police officers were screened or investigated for any such links.

F3.       Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 3 / 4

The population is generally free from threats to physical security, but police have been accused of abusing detainees, and prisons feature overcrowding and other harsh conditions. In 2018 there were some reports of beatings in police custody as well as one disputed death of a detainee that police said was a suicide.

F4.       Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 3 / 4

Women enjoy legal equality, but in practice they encounter some discrimination in employment, education, housing, and other areas.

The tiny Greek and Maronite minorities live in enclaves and suffer from social and economic disadvantages. The small Kurdish minority reportedly suffers from discrimination in employment. Both groups have complained of surveillance by TRNC authorities.

LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people reportedly face social stigmatization, though same-sex sexual activity was decriminalized in 2014, and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is prohibited by law.

The TRNC lacks legal protections for asylum seekers, raising concerns about possible refoulement. In July 2018, a group of 45 Turkish nationals suspected of belonging to the Gülen movement were arrested by the TRNC police as they allegedly attempted to travel to Greece, having first fled from Turkey to Northern Cyprus. Among them were 17 children. The group was subsequently returned to Turkey.

G. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: 11 / 16

G1.      Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 3 / 4

Movement within the TRNC territory is generally unrestricted. However, travel abroad is complicated by the TRNC’s lack of international recognition. The only direct flights from the TRNC are to Turkey. Most governments do not accept TRNC travel documents, so many Turkish Cypriots carry Republic of Cyprus passports, for which they are eligible. Movement across the UN buffer zone dividing the island has improved since 2004 due to a growing number of border crossings. In November 2018, two new crossing points opened at Deryneia and Lefka-Aplici.

G2.      Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 3 / 4

The authorities recognize the rights to own property and establish businesses. In practice these rights are somewhat limited, as authorities have in various ways attempted to prevent the sale of historically Turkish Cypriot properties to foreigners. The TRNC formed the Immovable Property Commission (IPC) in 2006 to resolve claims by Greek Cypriots who owned property in the north before the island’s 1974 division. In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights recognized the commission as an “accessible and effective” mechanism. However, its work has been seriously impaired in recent years by a lack of funding from the government and Ankara.

G3.      Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 3 / 4

Personal social freedoms are generally respected, though women’s organizations have criticized the government for failing to adequately address the problems of rape and domestic violence. According to a 2017 poll, one in three women have experienced violence in the home.

G4.      Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 2 / 4

While TRNC citizens generally have access to economic opportunity and protections from abusive working conditions, noncitizens often experience exploitation and lack mechanisms for appeal. Human trafficking and forced prostitution are serious problems, despite a nominal legal ban on prostitution. The TRNC does not have adequate antitrafficking legislation and does not fund antitrafficking efforts. Observers also report that some authorities are complicit in trafficking.

Explanatory Note: 

*Indicates a territory as opposed to an independent country.