International Religious Freedom Report
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The basic law in the Turkish Cypriot community also provides for freedom of religion, and the Turkish Cypriot authorities generally respect this right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion; however, reciprocal visits to religious sites were restricted during the period covered by this report.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom; however, there were a few instances of vandalism of unused religious sites.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the authorities in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total land area of 3,571 square miles and its population is estimated at 758,000.

Prior to 1974, Cyprus experienced a long period of intercommunal strife between its Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. In response, the United Nations Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) began peacekeeping operations in 1964. The island has been divided 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 ruled by a Turkish Cypriot administration. In 1983 that administration proclaimed itself the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" ("TRNC"). The TRNC is not recognized by the United States or any other country except Turkey.

Approximately 96 percent of the population in the government-controlled area are Greek Orthodox. Approximately 0.6 percent are Maronite, slightly under 0.3 percent are Armenian Orthodox, 0.2 percent are Latin (Roman Catholic), and 4 percent belong to other groups; the latter category includes small groups of Cypriot Protestants and foreigners of all religious beliefs.

A 1998 opinion poll indicated that about 48 percent of Greek Cypriots attend church services regularly, while 49 percent attend only for major religious holidays and ceremonies such as weddings and funerals. The remainder does not attend religious services at all. Approximately 10 percent of the population in the north attend religious services regularly.

An estimated 99 percent of the Turkish Cypriot population is at least nominally Muslim. There is a small Turkish Cypriot Baha'i community. Most other non-Muslims in the north are foreigners from Western Europe who are frequently members of the Roman Catholic or Anglican Church.

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

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The basic law in the Turkish Cypriot community also provides for freedom of religion and the authorities generally respect this right in practice. Turkish Cypriots residing in the south and Greek Cypriots living in the north are allowed to practice their religions.

The 1960 Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus specifies that the Greek Orthodox Church (which is autocephalous and 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. Similarly, the Constitution states that the Turkish Cypriot religious trust, the Vakf (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 Vakf laws and principles. No legislative, executive, or other act can contravene or interfere with the Orthodox Church or the Vakf. Both the Greek Orthodox Church and the Vakf are tax exempt with regard to religious activity. According to law, they are required to pay taxes only on strictly commercial activity.

Three other religious groups are recognized in the Constitution: Armenian Orthodox, Maronite Christians, and Latins (Roman Catholics). These groups also are exempt from taxes and are eligible, along with the Orthodox Church and the Vakf, for government subsidies to their religious institutions. No other religious group is recognized in the Constitution.

Both the Government of Cyprus and the Turkish Cypriot administration have constitutional or legal bars against religious discrimination. The basic agreement covering treatment of Greek Cypriots and Maronites living in the north and Turkish Cypriots living in the south remains the 1975 Vienna III Agreement. Among other things, this agreement provides for facilities for religious worship.

Religions other than the five recognized religions are not required to register with government authorities; however, if they desire to engage in financial transactions, such as maintaining a bank account, they must register as a nonprofit company, and most do so. The registration process involves submission through an attorney of an application that states the purpose of the nonprofit organization and provides the names of the organization's directors. Annual reports of the organization's activities are required. Such nonprofit organizations are tax exempt. Registration is granted promptly and many religious groups are recognized. No religious groups were denied registration during the period covered by this report.

Instruction in the Greek Orthodox religion is mandatory for all Greek Orthodox children and is taught in all public primary and secondary schools in classes held twice per week in the government-controlled area. Members of Jehovah's Witnesses and Maronite parents can request that their children be excused from such instruction. Such requests routinely are granted. There are no reports of practitioners of other religions requesting such an exemption.

The Government of Cyprus recognizes the following religious holidays as national holidays: the Epiphany, Evangelismos, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Holy Spirit Day, Assumption Day, and Christmas Day.

There are no prohibitions against missionary activity or proselytizing in the government-controlled areas. Foreign missionaries must obtain and periodically renew residence permits in order to live in the country; normally renewal requests are not denied.

There is no government-sponsored interfaith activity.

In the northern part of the island, the Turkish Cypriot basic law refers specifically to a "secular republic," and provides for religious freedom; no specific religion is recognized in the basic law. However, based on the 1960 Constitution, the Vakf, which pays the costs of Muslim religious activities and the salaries of Muslim religious leaders, is tax-exempt in regard to its religious activities (the Vakf pays taxes on its commercial and real estate operations) and receives official subsidies. No other religious organization is tax-exempt or receives subsidies.

Religious organizations are not required to register with the Turkish Cypriot 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 is rare.

There is instruction in religion, ethics, and comparative religions in two grades of the primary school system in the Turkish Cypriot community. There is no formal Islamic religious instruction in public schools and there are no state-supported religious schools.

The following religious holidays are observed widely in the Turkish Cypriot community: Kurban Bairam, Birthday of the Prophet, and Ramazan Bairam.

The Turkish Cypriot authorities do not sponsor any interfaith activity.

Restrictions of Religious Freedom

On May 10, 2001, in a case brought by the Government of Cyprus against the Government of Turkey, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Government of Turkey was responsible for restrictions imposed on Greek Cypriots resident in the north in regard to their access to places of worship and participation in other areas of religious life.

In 2001 Turkish Cypriot authorities and the Government of Cyprus came to an agreement, after 4 years, on the assignment of a second Orthodox priest to work in the north. However, the Government of Cyprus had not identified a candidate for the position at the end of the period covered by this report.

In May 2000, the Turkish Cypriot authorities eliminated the system of fees imposed in 1998 for crossing the buffer zone, although a $1.45 (1 British pound) processing fee remains in effect. Reciprocal visits to religious sites were suspended in July 2000. Such visits took place under a 1997 agreement which allowed Greek Cypriots to visit the Apostolos Andreas monastery in the north on designated Christian religious holidays, and Turkish Cypriots to visit the Hala Sultan mosque in the south on certain Muslim religious holidays. On July 31, 2000, Greek Cypriot officials responded to Turkish forces establishing a new manned checkpoint in a location adjacent to the Greek Cypriot village of Strovilia and the British eastern sovereign base area and denied Turkish Cypriots land passage to Kokkina. Visits to this area (which contains a memorial and is surrounded by the government-controlled area) are included in the 1997 reciprocal visit agreement. In August and November 2000, Turkish Cypriot officials denied access to southern Greek Cypriots to visit the Apostolos Andreas monastery; April 2001 visits to the monastery and mosque also did not take place.

Maronites may not visit certain religious sites in the north located in military zones. Armenians may not visit any religious sites in the north.

Although missionaries have the legal right to proselytize in both communities, missionary activities are monitored closely by both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot authorities. The police may initiate investigations of religious activity based on a citizen's complaint under laws that make it illegal for a missionary to use "physical or moral compulsion" in an attempt to make religious conversions, or when missionaries may be involved in illegal activities that threaten the security of the republic, constitutional or public order, or public health and morals. There are occasional apprehensions under these laws resulting in publicity but no arrests.

In both the government-controlled areas and the Turkish Cypriot community, there were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

In both the government-controlled areas and the Turkish Cypriot community, 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 authorities' refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

There are polite relations between the Greek Cypriot Orthodox Church and the other religious communities in the south. In the north there are few non-Muslims, but there is no friction between them and the nominally Muslim population. However, there are complaints of vandalism of unused Orthodox churches. Turkish Cypriots complain that unused mosques in the south have been treated similarly. Orthodox churches and cemeteries in the north continue to deteriorate due to vandalism and neglect. An unused Orthodox Church in the north is located in the center of a resort constructed during the year 2000 on the ground surrounding the church. Greek Cypriots complain that since 1974, religious icons have been removed from Orthodox churches in the north. A previously unknown Greek Cypriot nationalist organization claimed responsibility for an arson attack on a mosque in the south in August 1999; damage was light. The authorities repaired and built a fence around the mosque and pledged to increase protection of Muslim sites. No one was arrested for the attack.

The Orthodox Church is suspicious of any attempts to proselytize among Greek Cypriots and closely monitors such activities. On occasion the Greek Cypriot media has given extensive coverage to the activities of foreign missionaries, creating a chilling effect on those activities.

There has been little effort at ecumenical activity. In recent years, an international conference on understanding among religions has been sponsored annually by a private foundation in the government-controlled areas; otherwise, there has been little interest in such activities either in the government-controlled areas or in the Turkish Cypriot community.

Religion is a significantly more prominent component of Greek Cypriot society than of Turkish Cypriot society, with correspondingly greater cultural and political influence. One example of the relationship between church and state among Greek Cypriots is the fact that the leader of the Greek Cypriot campaign for independence in the 1950's was the head of the Greek Orthodox Church, Archbishop Makarios III, who became President from independence in 1960 and served until his death in 1977.

As the largest owner of real estate in the south and the operator of several large business enterprises, the Greek Orthodox Church is a significant economic factor. Similarly, the Vakf is the largest landowner in the north.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the authorities in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

The U.S. Embassy played a key role, working closely with the United Nations, in obtaining agreement from both sides in January 2000 to initiate a project to restore the island's two most significant religious sites, the Apostolos Andreas monastery and the Hala Sultan mosque. This agreement was announced by U.N. Secretary General Annan. Restoration work began in early 2001.

The Ambassador and other Embassy officers meet periodically with Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot religious authorities regarding specific religious freedom concerns.

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