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2007 Report on International Religious Freedom - Cyprus

Publisher United States Department of State
Author Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Publication Date 14 September 2007
Cite as United States Department of State, 2007 Report on International Religious Freedom - Cyprus, 14 September 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/46ee678150.html [accessed 24 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the Government during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

There were few reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious belief or practice, and prominent societal leaders took positive steps to promote religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discussed religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

Cyprus has an area of 5,747 square miles and a population in the government-controlled area of 778,700.

Prior to 1974, the country experienced a long period of strife between its Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities. In response, the UN Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) began peacekeeping operations in 1964. The island has been divided de facto since the Turkish military intervention of 1974, following a coup d'etat directed from Greece. The southern part of the island is under the control of the Government of the Republic of Cyprus, while the northern part is administered by Turkish Cypriots. In 1983, their administration proclaimed itself the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" ("TRNC"). The United States does not recognize the "TRNC," nor does any other country except Turkey. A buffer zone, or "green line," patrolled by UNFICYP, separates the two parts. In 2003 Turkish Cypriot authorities relaxed many restrictions on movement between the two communities, including abolishing all crossing fees. The new procedures led to relatively unimpeded contact between the communities and permitted Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots to visit religious sites located in the other community; however, Cypriots, as well as foreigners, must show identification at the buffer zone crossing points to go from one side to the other.

According to the most recent (2001) population census, 94.8 percent of the permanent population in the Government-controlled area belongs to the Autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus. Additionally, 0.5 percent of the population is Maronite Catholic, 0.3 percent Armenian Orthodox, 1.5 percent Roman Catholic, 1 percent Protestant, 0.6 percent Muslim, and 1.3 percent atheist, "other," or "not stated."

There is a Buddhist temple in Nicosia and a synagogue in Larnaca. Both are attended primarily by expatriates and foreign residents.

A 1998 opinion poll indicated that 48 percent of Greek Cypriots regularly attended church services, while 49 percent attended only for major religious holidays and ceremonies such as weddings and funerals. The remainder did not attend religious services at all.

There is some Protestant missionary activity in the Government-controlled area.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The 1960 Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. The Government at all levels sought to protect this right in full and did not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

The Constitution specifies that the Autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus, which is not under the authority of the mainland Greek Orthodox Church, has the exclusive right to regulate and administer its internal affairs and property in accordance with its holy canons and charter. The Church of Cyprus is exempt from taxes with regard to religious activity and, according to the law, is required to pay taxes only on strictly commercial activities. The Constitution also lays out guidelines for the Vakif, the Muslim institution that regulates religious activity for Turkish Cypriots, which similarly has the exclusive right to regulate and administer its internal affairs and property in accordance with its laws and principles. The Vakif, however, operated only in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots during the period covered by this report. No legislative, executive, or other act may contravene or interfere with the Orthodox Church or the Vakif.

Three other religious groups are recognized in the 1960 Constitution: Maronite Catholics, Armenian Orthodox, and "Latins" (Roman Catholics). These groups are also exempt from taxes and are eligible, along with the Church of Cyprus and the Vakif, for government subsidies to their religious institutions.

The Government has constitutional and other legal bars against religious discrimination. The 1975 Vienna III Agreement remains the basic agreement covering treatment of Greek Cypriots and Maronites living in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots living in the government-controlled area. Among other things, this agreement provides for facilities for religious worship. Religions other than the five recognized religions are not required to register with the Government; however, if they desire to engage in financial transactions, such as maintaining a bank account, they must register as a nonprofit organization. To register, a group must submit an application through an attorney that states the purposes of the nonprofit organization and provides the names of the organization's corporate directors. Upon approval, nonprofit organizations are tax-exempt and are required to provide annual reports of their activities. Registration is granted promptly. No religious groups were denied registration during the reporting period.

There are no prohibitions against missionary activity or proselytizing in the government-controlled area. Foreign missionaries must obtain and periodically renew residence permits in order to live in the country; normally, renewal requests are approved.

The Government requires children in public primary and secondary schools to take instruction in the Greek Orthodox religion. Parents of other religions may request that their children be excused. These children are exempted from attending religious services and instruction.

The Ministry of Education postponed implementation of its February 2006 proposal to reduce the number of hours of religious instruction required in public schools from 2 hours to 1 hour per week. The Church of Cyprus and other religious organizations strongly objected to the proposal; the Ministry postponed implementation to allow public debate and discussion; however, it did not schedule such debate and discussion during the reporting period.

The Government of Cyprus recognizes the following holy days as national holidays: Epiphany, Annunciation, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Holy Spirit Day (Pentecost), Assumption, and Christmas.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion in Cyprus.

Since 2003, when restrictions of movement to the northern part of the island were relaxed, Greek Cypriots as well as other religious groups have reported better access to religious sites in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. Turkish Cypriots enjoyed relatively easy access to religious sites in the government-controlled area.

The Government reported that it spent $173,272 (€130,280) in 2006 for the conservation of 17 mosques and other Muslim places of worship in the area under its control. The 2007 budget for the same project was $462,414 (€347,680).

Missionaries have the legal right to proselytize, but the Government closely monitors missionary activity. It is illegal for a missionary to use "physical or moral compulsion" to make religious conversions. The police may investigate missionary activity based on a citizen's complaint. They may also open an investigation if missionaries are suspected of being involved in illegal activities that threaten the security of the republic, constitutional or public order, or public health and morals.

Conscientious objectors, including those for religious reasons, are exempt from active military duty; however, they are legally required to complete an alternative military service and perform reservist duty in the Greek Cypriot National Guard (GCNG). The Independent Authority for Investigating Complaints and Allegations against the Police closed an investigation that resulted from a May 2006 nongovernmental organization (NGO) complaint filed with the Authority and the Ombudsman regarding police treatment of Muslim asylum seekers. The NGO had reported complaints from political asylees of Muslim origin who had difficulty securing employment because of their religion. Several women also reported that potential employers did not like their headscarves. Another asylee alleged he could not secure housing due to his Muslim faith. The Ombudsman' Office did not proceed with an investigation because it could not locate one of the complainants. The Independent Authority asked the NGO for additional information, which the NGO was unable to produce. As a result, the Independent Authority closed the investigation.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the country.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

On February 21, 2007, Church of Cyprus Archbishop Chrysostomos II and the Turkish Cypriot Head of Religious Affairs, Ahmet Yonluer, met at the Ledra Palace Hotel for what was the first meeting of the communities' religious leaders in the past 33 years.

On July 3-5, 2006, Cyprus cohosted with Malaysia the second Asia-Europe Meeting Interfaith Dialogue, which sought to promote greater understanding between different religions and to help combat terrorism.

Section III. Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There were few reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious belief or practice, and prominent societal leaders took positive steps to promote religious freedom. Relations between the Church of Cyprus and other religious communities in the Government-controlled area were cordial.

In May 2007 an NGO reported that it continued to receive complaints from recognized political asylees of Muslim origin who had difficulty securing employment because of their religion. An Iranian asylee alleged that he was fired from his position at a major television station that has strong links with the Church of Cyprus when he mentioned that he was Muslim.

In April 2007 court proceedings began for 13 suspects charged with attacking Turkish Cypriot students. On November 22, 2006, 15 to 20 Greek Cypriot teenagers, believed to be members of an ultranationalist group, National Voice of Youth with a Greek Soul, entered the English School in Nicosia and attacked a group of Turkish Cypriot students, causing minor injuries. Reports in the Greek Cypriot press about an earlier incident at the same school, which reported that an 11-year-old male Turkish Cypriot student verbally insulted a Greek Cypriot student wearing a Christian cross, were blamed for inciting the latter event. The Government condemned the November 22 attack as an aberration, not indicative of a broader atmosphere of discrimination or racial hatred against Turkish Cypriots.

Although Turkish Cypriots occasionally reported that unused mosques in the Government-controlled area have been vandalized, the Government of Cyprus routinely maintains and repairs them.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

AREA ADMINISTERED BY TURKISH CYPRIOTS

Since 1974, the northern part of Cyprus has been administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities. It proclaimed itself the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" ("TRNC") in 1983. The United States does not recognize the "TRNC," nor does any other country except Turkey.

The basic law in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots refers specifically to a "secular republic" and provides for freedom of religion. However, the politically divisive environment on Cyprus engendered some restrictions on religious freedom, particularly for Greek Cypriots and Maronites.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the Turkish Cypriot authorities during the reporting period, and Turkish Cypriot policies continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

There were few reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious belief or practice.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with Turkish Cypriot authorities as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

According to a population count in April 2006, the population in the area was estimated at 265,100. Ninety-eight percent of this population is, at least nominally, Sunni Muslim. An estimated 4,000, mostly immigrant workers, are Alevis, "followers of Ali," who follow a strand of Shi'a Islam with some pre-Islamic influences; there are also smaller numbers of followers of other schools of Islam. There is a small Turkish Cypriot Baha'i community. Most non-Muslims residing in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots are foreigners from Western Europe who are generally members of the Roman Catholic or Anglican Churches. Approximately 10 percent of the population in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots attends religious services regularly.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The "TRNC constitution" provides for freedom of religion, and Turkish Cypriot authorities generally respected this right in practice. Turkish Cypriot authorities at all levels sought to protect this right in full and did not tolerate its abuse, either by the authorities or private actors.

The "law" does not recognize any specific religion. However, it states that the Vakif, the Muslim institution that regulates religious activity for Turkish Cypriots, has the exclusive right to regulate and administer its internal affairs and property in accordance with Vakif laws and principles. The Vakif is tax-exempt in its religious activities, but its commercial operations are subject to applicable taxes. It also receives subsidies. No other religious organization is tax-exempt or receives subsidies. The Vakif is the largest landowner in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots.

Turkish Cypriot authorities bar religious discrimination. The 1975 Vienna III Agreement is the basic agreement covering treatment of Greek Cypriots and Maronites living in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots living in the government-controlled area. Among other things the agreement provides for facilities for religious worship, stating that, "the Greek Cypriots at present in the north of the island are free to stay and they will be given every help to lead a normal life, including facilities for education and for the practice of their religion, as well as medical care by their own doctors and freedom of movement in the north."

In March 2007 a second priest was finally appointed to serve the enclaved community of Ayia Triada in the Karpass region, after the Government requested in 2005 that a second Church of Cyprus priest be assigned to minister to the enclaved Greek Cypriots living in the Karpass region of the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. Turkish Cypriot authorities had objected to the proposed candidate, claiming he disliked Turkish Cypriots and had made inappropriate statements about their community.

Religious organizations are not required to register with authorities unless they wish to engage in commercial activity or apply for tax-exempt status. There are no legal restrictions on missionary activity; however, such activity was rare.

There is instruction in religion, ethics, and comparative religions in two grades of the primary school system; however, it is not compulsory. There is no formal Islamic religious instruction in public schools, and there are no "state-supported" religious schools.

The following holy days are observed widely in the Turkish Cypriot community: Kurban Bairam, the Birth of the Prophet Muhammad, and Ramadan Bairam.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The authorities' policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion.

Greek Cypriot Orthodox and Maronite Catholics were prohibited from visiting religious sites located in military zones in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. They were allowed to conduct Mass on a regular basis, without prior permission, at seven sites in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots so designated by the Turkish Cypriot authorities; prior permission was required to conduct Mass at the other estimated 500 religious sites in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots.

Turkish Cypriot authorities gave permission for an Orthodox Mass to be held at the Armenian Sourp Magar Monastery in Kyrenia/Girne on May 6, 2007, the first time since the 1974 division of the island. Turkish Cypriot authorities also gave permission for a Catholic Mass at the Maronite Prophet Elias Monastery outside of Ayia Marina/Gurpinar on July 23, 2006, also the first time since the division of the island. For the fourth consecutive year, Turkish Cypriot authorities permitted a Greek Orthodox Mass at St. Barnabas Monastery, near Famagusta, on June 10-11, 2007. On September 1-2, 2006, Turkish Cypriot authorities, for the third consecutive year since the opening of the crossing points in 2003, gave permission for a Greek Orthodox Mass to be held in Ayios Mamas Church near the town of Morphou/Guzelyurt. Unlike in previous years, there were no incidents directly before or during the Mass.

During the period covered by this report, Turkish Cypriot authorities completed the restoration of five Orthodox churches in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots.

The U.S. Agency for International Development, through a program implemented by the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) and with the approval of Turkish Cypriot authorities, began a stabilization and restoration project at the Maronite Prophet Elias Monastery to prevent further deterioration. Turkish military objections to traffic along the restoration road, which cut through a Turkish military installation, halted the project, but the Turkish Cypriots and UNDP agreed to clean up the site and fence off the monastery to prevent damage.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

On February 21, 2007, Turkish Cypriot Head of Religious Affairs, Ahmet Yonluer, met with Church of Cyprus Archbishop Chrysostomos II at the Ledra Palace Hotel for what was the first meeting of the communities' religious leaders in 33 years.

Section III. Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There were few reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious belief or practice.

Greek Cypriots continued to report that vandals damaged vacant Greek Orthodox churches and removed religious icons in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots; there were no reported law enforcement investigations of these incidents. According to Turkish Cypriot leaders, in response to complaints of vandalism, some locations were fenced for their protection.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discussed religious freedom issues with Turkish Cypriot authorities as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Released on September 14, 2007

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