During the year overcrowding remained the Nicosia Central Prison’s greatest problem. Prison authorities acknowledged that many of the prison buildings were constructed prior to 1960 and in need of renovation. In a September report the ombudsman stated that overcrowding had become a permanent problem and had a negative impact on prisoners’ living conditions. The prison’s capacity was 520, but at times it housed up to 710 inmates. Extension and renovation works completed in 2011 added 89 new cells to the prison. Approximately 62 percent of the prisoners were non-Cypriots imprisoned for illegal entry, stay, and employment, as well as theft, burglary, and other offenses. Community service is an option for nonviolent offenders.
On September 28, a 40-year-old detainee, held on suspicion of robbing a church, hanged himself in his cell in a detention center in Limassol. The Independent Authority was investigating the conditions of his death at year's end. On October 16, a Georgian national, held on a detention and deportation order for living in the country illegally, was found unconscious in his cell in Nicosia’s Lakatamia Detention Center. He was transferred to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. A police spokesman stated there was no suspicion that a crime had been committed. A forensic post mortem examination did not reveal the cause of death. The results of a histological examination expected to determine the exact cause of death were pending at year’s end. The deceased had spent two months in the center. The chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Legal Affairs, Ionas Nicolaou, criticized police for holding foreign prisoners in detention centers for extended periods of time. Nicolaou stated that cells in detention centers were too small, lacked natural light, and were likely to cause serious health problems for detainees held there for more than a few days.
Inmates in the Central Prison during the year included 447 females, one of whom was a juvenile, and seven male juveniles. Juveniles were held separately from adults, women separately from men, and pretrial detainees separately from convicted prisoners. The ombudsman investigated two complaints by Turkish Cypriot prisoners made in 2009 that they were subjected to discriminatory treatment at the Central Prison, and found them unsubstantiated at the conclusion of the investigation in 2011. In 2010 the ombudsman examined a complaint that female inmates were treated unequally because they were not given the option to serve their prison sentences or portions of them in the Open Prison or the Out of Prison Employment Center as was the case with male inmates. Restoration work completed in 2011 allowed women inmates to serve part of their sentence in the Open Prison. Turkish Cypriots who lived in the area under Turkish Cypriot administration were admitted to the Open Prison but were granted exit permits only with an escort.
An NGO reported in August that it received multiple complaints of police brutality against foreign detainees held in detention centers in Larnaca, Nicosia, and Paphos and complaints of discrimination in the Central Prison. The NGO reported that police officers also verbally abused foreign detainees using derogatory language about their ethnicity and religion. Foreign detainees were reportedly tasked with heavier work than local prisoners, were not informed about the full extent of their visitation rights, and in some cases, unable to receive visits from their families.
The ombudsman reported that overcrowding posed great challenges to maintaining the absolute separation of convicted criminals from pretrial detainees and that long- and short-term prisoners were held together. According to the ombudsman, overcrowding had serious repercussions on the health of both prisoners and staff due to the lack of sufficient hygiene facilities and a health center. Also, prisoners with mental health problems did not receive specialized treatment. During the year prison management implemented the ombudsman’s recommendation to operate a special rehabilitation program for drug addicts within the prison. Prison authorities confirmed that overcrowding prevented separation of prisoners by health condition. Community service is an alternative to prison confinement for nonviolent criminals.
Prisoners in the Central Prison had access to a church and a mosque, and prison management stated that it made every effort to facilitate religious observance. Detention centers did not have facilities for religious observance. Prisoners and detainees could submit complaints to the ombudsman without censorship. The ombudsman reported one case of a prisoner who was asked by prison management to revoke the complaint.
The ombudsman reported in October that an investigation deemed conditions in Famagusta detention center incompatible with international standards and conducive to inhumane and degrading treatment of detainees. The detention center lacked basic hygiene components, and toilet paper, soap, and shampoo were available only on demand. There was no exercise area, and detainees were confined 24 hours a day in their cells. Due to the lack of a proper visitors’ room, detainees were handcuffed when they received visitors. The ombudsman recommended the immediate closing of the detention center.
Construction work was underway during the year to increase capacity and improve sanitary conditions at the Central Prison.
The government permitted prison visits by independent human rights observers, and such visits, unrestricted and unannounced, occurred during the year. The ombudsman and the prison board visited Central Prison on a regular basis. The Human Rights Committee of the House of Representatives also visited the prison and examined the living conditions of the detainees. After a visit on March 2, the Human Rights Committee underlined that the problems its members observed in previous years, such as overcrowding, lack of staff (especially medical staff), and inadequate training of existing staff remained unresolved.
In 2008 the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) conducted one of its periodic spot checks. CPT representatives visited several sites, including the Central Prison, the psychiatric unit in Athalassa, and several police stations, and privately interviewed detainees and prisoners. The CPT’s report on the visit had not been released by the end of 2011.