Prison and detention center conditions did not meet international standards in a number of areas, and prison overcrowding was a particularly serious problem. The government permitted visits by independent human rights observers.
Physical Conditions: During the year overcrowding remained the largest problem for Nicosia Central Prison, the only prison in the Republic of Cyprus. The prison’s capacity was 520 inmates, but at times it housed up to 710. Authorities held juveniles separately from adults, but they shared the same grounds with adults in their daily activities; pretrial juveniles were not held separately from convicted juveniles.
Prison authorities acknowledged that many of the prison buildings were constructed prior to 1960 and needed renovation. In a September 2011 report, the ombudsman stated that overcrowding had become a permanent problem and had a negative impact on prisoners’ living conditions. The ombudsman also reported in 2011 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. In addition prisoners with mental health problems did not receive specialized treatment. Prison authorities confirmed overcrowding prevented separation of prisoners by health condition. Extension and renovation work completed in 2011 added 89 new cells to the prison.
Inmates in the central prison during the year included 132 women, none of whom were juveniles, and three male juveniles.
Approximately 58 percent of the prisoners were non-Cypriots imprisoned for illegal entry, stay, and employment, as well as theft, burglary, debts, and other offenses. An NGO reported that, although it continued to receive complaints of police mistreatment against foreign detainees held in detention centers in Larnaca, Nicosia, and Paphos and complaints of discrimination in the Nicosia Central Prison, the overall situation had improved. The ombudsman reported she received complaints from foreign prisoners claiming that they were tasked with heavier work than local prisoners, were not granted the full extent of their visitation rights and that prison officials did not show respect for their religious practices. The complaints were under investigation at year’s end.
In December the chairman and members of the House of Representatives Committee on Human Rights visited the detention centers in Lakatamia and Pera Chorio Nisou and the police station in Lycavitos. Committee member Roula Mavronicola described the situation in Lakatamia as “hopeless” and stated that “basic human rights are violated.” Ventilation and lighting were inadequate, and there was no outside yard or any other area for physical exercise. The committee noted better living conditions for detainees in Pera Chorio Nisou. Mavronicola stated that detainees in Lycavitos were deprived of fresh air and sunlight since there were no open-air facilities in the detention center, only a dark corridor beside the holding cells.
Prisoners in the central prison and detainees in detention centers had access to potable water. There were no reported deaths during the year in the central prison or the detention centers.
In December 2011 the Politis newspaper reported that a young inmate in the Nicosia Central Prison was raped by an older inmate convicted of rape. The newspaper charged that the prison management tried to cover up the incident. The ombudsman’s investigation confirmed that prison wardens had locked the convicted rapist in the youth’s cell against normal procedure. The youth testified to investigators that the older convict forced him to have sex. The ombudsman strongly criticized prison authorities for exhibiting unjustifiable negligence and acting in a manner that sought to cover up the events. The young victim received a presidential pardon and authorities released him on March 12. The attorney general ordered the criminal prosecution of the suspected perpetrator.
On March 18, a 46-year-old Romanian was found dead, having hanged himself in his Limassol police cell. He was being held on an eight-day remand order after his 20-year-old daughter reported to police that he had repeatedly raped her. Police and forensic examinations ruled out a criminal act; post mortem results were pending at year’s end.
In December the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) released the report on its 2008 visit. CPT representatives visited several sites, including the Nicosia Central Prison and several police stations, and privately interviewed detainees and prisoners. Little changed four years after the previous CPT visit in 2004, and the same conditions persisted. In the Nicosia Central Prison, the CPT reported overcrowding, isolated cases of physical abuse (punching and kicking) of prisoners, and discrimination against foreign prisoners. The representatives also found the detention centers to be overcrowded, lacking in natural light and ventilation, and providing insufficient and poor quality food; and deemed them unsuitable for prolonged periods of detention.
Administration: Recordkeeping on prisoners was adequate. Community service is an alternative to prison confinement for nonviolent offenders. 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. However, the ombudsman reported that prisoners expressed concerns over possible censorship but did not submit specific complaints.
Monitoring: 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 Nicosia Central Prison on a regular basis. The House of Representatives Committee on Equal Opportunities for Men and Women, the commissioner for children’s rights, and the commissioner for the protection of personal data also visited the prison during the year.
Improvements: Construction continued during the year to increase capacity and improve sanitary conditions at the Nicosia Central Prison. Construction that started in 2010 for the restoration of a separate wing and for new infrastructure needed for juvenile and young prisoners continued. During the year prison management implemented the ombudsman’s recommendation to operate a special rehabilitation program for drug addicts within the prison.
The operation of the Famagusta police detention center was terminated in September 2011 based on a report by the ombudsman that found conditions to be incompatible with international standards and conducive to inhumane and degrading treatment of detainees.