Freedom in the World 2016 - Northern Cyprus

Freedom Status: Free
Aggregate Score: 79
Freedom Rating: 2.0
Political Rights: 2
Civil Liberties: 2

Quick Facts

Capital: North Nicosia
Population: 286,257
GDP/capita: N/A
Press Freedom Status: N/A
Net Freedom Status: N/A


In April 2015, Mustafa Akıncı was elected president of the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), defeating incumbent Derviş Eroğlu with over 60 percent of the vote. Akıncı campaigned as the peace candidate, pledging to make progress in reunification talks with the Republic of Cyprus – the internationally recognized government that controls the southern, Greek-speaking portion of the island. UN-brokered negotiations had stalled in 2014, and Akıncı's surprise victory was taken as a sign that TRNC voters desired both reconciliation with the Greek Cypriots and an end to their own isolation. The TRNC is recognized only by Turkey, and Turkish influence is a source of unease for many in Northern Cyprus.

In May, Akıncı met with Nicos Anastasiades, his Greek Cypriot counterpart, who had openly welcomed Akıncı's election. The two leaders pledged to meet regularly, and they agreed that reunification should occur through the creation of a two-state federation. They endorsed a five-step plan toward that goal, including the establishment of connections between the two power grids and the opening of more crossing points along the UN buffer zone that divides the island. Also in May, the TRNC unilaterally removed a visa requirement for visitors from the Republic of Cyprus, and by September the two sides were working on establishing a new property court. Talks continued through the end of the year, with both sides expressing hope that a reunification deal could be put to a referendum as early as 2016. However, difficult issues, including power sharing, territorial adjustments, and the fate of Turkish settlers and troops in the TRNC, must be resolved.

Akıncı's election separately sparked a domestic political shake-up. The failure of Sibel Siber, the candidate of the governing Republican Turkish Party (CTP), to advance to the presidential runoff prompted the CTP to elect new leaders at a party congress in June, which in turn led Ömer Kalyoncu of the CTP to replace outgoing party leader Özkan Yorgancıoğlu as prime minister. Former president Mehmet Ali Talat became the CTP's new leader.


Political Rights: 32 / 40

A. Electoral Process: 11 / 12

The president, who serves as head of state and represents the TRNC internationally, is popularly elected to five-year terms. In April 2015, seven candidates vied for the presidency. None won a majority, necessitating a runoff between the top two candidates. Akıncı, backed by the social democratic Communal Democracy Party (TDP), won just over 60 percent of the runoff vote, defeating incumbent president Eroğlu, who was supported by the National Unity Party (UBP) and had led the first-round voting with 28 percent.

For elections to the 50-seat Assembly of the Republic, the TRNC employs a proportional representation system with a 5 percent vote threshold for parties to win representation. The center-left CTP, which had been the main opposition party, led the 2013 elections with 21 seats. The nationalist-oriented UBP placed second with 14, followed by the center-right Democratic Party (DP) with 12 and the TDP with 3. The CTP formed a coalition government with the DP. After the CTP leadership changes in June 2015, however, the UBP replaced the DP as the junior coalition partner.

The Supreme Election Committee is an independent body, and elections in the TRNC are generally considered free and fair. However, in 2014 some accused it of not ensuring the neutrality of the assembly speaker's office in a constitutional referendum held that year.

B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 12 / 16

Turkish Cypriots are free to organize political parties, and elections are competitive. Opposition parties and candidates have prevailed in recent elections, leading to rotations of power. A law passed in October 2015 limits the powers of lawmakers who leave their party and stipulates that parties receiving at least 3 percent of the vote may obtain state funding, among other provisions.

There is a widespread perception that Turkey wields most political power in Northern Cyprus. The TRNC relies heavily on Turkey for security and economic support, and Turkey has applied pressure on TRNC governments to adhere to economic protocols and austerity measures. Transitional Article 10 of the constitution grants the Turkish military control over the TRNC's security and police forces. Efforts to change this provision as part of the 2014 constitutional reform package failed to win parliamentary support. Upon his election as president in 2015, Akıncı declared that there should be a more equal and fraternal relationship between Turkey and the TRNC, instead of one dominated by Turkey. This prompted a harsh reaction from Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who suggested that Akıncı was ungrateful for Turkish support.

Minority rights remain a concern. A few hundred Greek Cypriots and Maronites live in the TRNC, mostly in small enclaves. They are legally citizens of the Republic of Cyprus and thus are not eligible to vote in TRNC elections. Proposals to include expanded minority rights in the 2014 constitutional reform package were rejected, though Akıncı has spoken positively of improving minority rights.

C. Functioning of Government: 9 / 12

Many observers suggest that the autonomy and effectiveness of elected TRNC officials is hampered by interference from Turkey. Corruption and a lack of transparency in governance are also concerns. The 2013 assembly elections were called early after several representatives decried corruption in the UBP, the ruling party at the time. The new law on political parties adopted in October 2015 strengthened court oversight of party finances.

Civil Liberties: 47 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 14 / 16

Freedom of the press is guaranteed by law, and a number of media outlets are openly critical of the government. However, some observers suggest that press freedom has been compromised as the Turkish government pressures editors and journalists in the TRNC to tone down stories that are critical of Ankara. In August 2015, the Turkish armed forces in Northern Cyprus accused the TRNC newspaper Afrika of insulting the military; the paper's chief editor and a writer were summoned for questioning by prosecutors and later released. The government does not restrict internet access.

The TRNC is a secular state and legally guarantees freedom of worship. There are some disputes over the condition of Christian churches and access to religious sites, although joint Cypriot bodies work together on cultural heritage projects that include restoration of churches and mosques.

Academic freedom and freedom of open private discussion are respected.

E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 9 / 12

Freedoms of assembly and association are generally upheld. Nongovernmental organizations typically operate without restrictions, and many have been active in reunification efforts by working with Greek Cypriot partners. Workers may form independent unions, bargain collectively, and strike, though employers are reportedly able to block unionization in the private sector amid weak labor regulations. In March 2015, public-sector unions struck to protest the adoption of austerity measures that cut salaries, and some demonstrators scuffled with police.

F. Rule of Law: 12 / 16

The judiciary is independent, and trials generally meet international standards of fairness. TRNC police, under the control of the Turkish military, sometimes fail to respect due process rights, and there have been allegations of abuse of detainees. Lawyers' associations and journalists have actively worked to remedy irregularities in the justice system, but proposed constitutional reforms to provide greater oversight failed to pass in the 2014 referendum.

The tiny Greek and Maronite minorities live in a collection of enclaves where their social and economic prospects are limited. Some have reported difficulties at border checkpoints, as well as alleged surveillance by TRNC authorities. The small Kurdish minority reportedly faces economic discrimination and alleged police monitoring, according to the U.S. State Department.

The settlement of Turkish nationals in Northern Cyprus since the 1970s is a source of contention. Official figures suggest that more than one-third of TRNC residents were born in Turkey, and that when tallied with their children, settlers account for nearly half of the total population. The Republic of Cyprus government has accused Turkey of deliberately encouraging population transfer over the years to increase its control over the TRNC and undermine the reunification process. In July 2014, a Cypriot group filed a complaint at the International Criminal Court (ICC) demanding an investigation into Turkey's settlement policy as a potential war crime.

LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people reportedly face social stigmatization and typically keep their sexual orientation or gender identity private. However, same-sex sexual activity was decriminalized in 2014.

G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 12 / 16

Movement within the TRNC territory is relatively free. The only direct flights from the TRNC are to Turkey. Most governments do not recognize TRNC travel documents, so many Turkish Cypriots have obtained Republic of Cyprus passports, for which they are eligible. In May 2015, TRNC visa requirements were lifted for visitors from the Republic of Cyprus, making it easier for ethnic Greeks and Maronites to visit relatives and ancestral villages.

There is a right to private property. The TRNC formed the Immovable Property Commission 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 (ECHR) recognized the commission as an "accessible and effective" mechanism. As of late 2015, the commission had settled more than 700 claims out of over 6,200 applications and awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation. However, Turkey ceased its funding for the commission in 2014, and since then its work has been seriously hampered.

Women's legal rights are equal to those of men, but they face various forms of discrimination in practice. They are also underrepresented in politics. In May 2015, Akıncı and Anastasiades announced the creation of a joint gender equality commission. The October law on political parties included a provision requiring 30 percent of a party's candidates for the legislature to be women.

Although prostitution is illegal, forced prostitution in nightclubs is a pervasive problem. According to the U.S. State Department, the TRNC lacks an adequate antitrafficking law, and some authorities are reportedly complicit in trafficking.

Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year

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