Prison and detention center conditions did not meet international standards in a number of areas, and prison overcrowding was particularly a problem.
Physical Conditions: Of the 286 prisoners and detainees held at year’s end, 42 percent were foreigners, most of whom were Turkish citizens. Of those sentenced, 60 percent were sentenced to heavy penalty and 40 percent were sentenced to light penalty. Five female prisoners and two juveniles were incarcerated. (Prison sentences are classified as either light or heavy prison punishments.) Approximately 38 percent of the prisoners were awaiting trial.
The prison, which is located in Nicosia, did not separate incarcerated adults and juveniles. There were no detention or correction centers for children in the north.
Authorities stated that the capacity of the prison was 291, but a bunk-bed system increased the official number of beds to 452. In previous years inmates complained of overcrowding at the prison, but authorities routinely claimed they had addressed the problem. Nongovernment organization (NGO) representatives stated that health and other services were sorely lacking, and inmates lacked regular access to washing water and hot water. Authorities stated that health services were provided to inmates twice a week and were available for emergencies, and that health checks were given to prisoners and detainees upon entry into the prison.
The Turkish Cypriot Human Rights Foundation’s May report, Detainee Rights in the Northern Part of Cyprus, emphasized the inadequate level of healthcare, noting a lack of medical supplies; lack of medical and support staff; no full time doctor, psychiatrist, or psychologist; and an insufficient number of social workers. The report also highlighted the lack of effective treatment for drug users or addicts. It also noted security problems, including insufficient methods to reduce violence between inmates and detainees, overcrowded cells, and bars on doors and windows that prisoners easily removed during violent encounters. The report cited incidences of gang violence, violence or torture inflicted by guards on inmates, and easy access to weapons and drugs.
During the year there were no deaths within the prison or detention centers. Prisoners had access to potable water.
In August the Havadis newspaper reported a change in profile of inmates in the central prison, noting that most inmates were at that time Turkish Cypriots, not foreigners. According to the newspaper article, the majority of the prisoners allegedly were convicted for nonpayment of financial debts.
Administration: Recordkeeping on inmates was inadequate. Community service is not an alternative to prison confinement for nonviolent offenders. According to the “law,” alternatives to prison sentences, which were used most often for nonviolent offenses, include warnings, conditional and unconditional release, and bail. In addition in some cases of domestic violence or drug use, the “court” may also suggest psychological and social counseling. According to authorities prisoners and detainees were permitted to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhumane conditions. Authorities reported they did not receive any complaints.
Authorities stated that all prisoners were allowed religious observance and that an imam visited the prison once a week to conduct prayers. Prisoners with “stern” penalties were allowed to receive visitors every 10 days while prisoners with “light punishment” were allowed to receive visitors every 15 days. Detainees were allowed to receive visitors every 30 days. Visits were limited to 30 minutes except during holidays. Convicted inmates were allowed a maximum of 40 minutes of telephone calls four days a week; detainees were given access to telephones three days a week for 40 minutes each.
The scope of the “ombudsman’s” duties does not include advocating for reduced or alternative sentences or addressing the status of juvenile prisoners or improving detention or bail conditions.
Monitoring: Authorities stated that prison monitoring is permitted, but no local or international NGO had applied to do so. Authorities added that, throughout the year, press and media representatives visited the prison. One NGO representative stated that, during prison visits to help detainees, he repeatedly expressed to authorities his concerns regarding poor prison conditions, particularly the detention of women and children who had no legal cause to be detained. According to one journalist, prison visits were permitted only when organized by Turkish Cypriot authorities and thus were overly monitored and controlled.
Improvements: Some steps were taken to improve conditions and morale in the prisons. In August authorities permitted a prison visit by a group of local journalists and hosted an iftar dinner for the group at the prison, where they were able to meet with inmates and prison employees.
In April inmates and detainees formed a theater group named Gundogdu (Sunrise) Theater with the approval of the prison administration and the support of psychologists. The group staged a play that prison administration, “members of parliament,” the media, and the general public attended. Authorities announced that they improved nutritional requirements for inmates and were also working on improving morale. Prisoners were permitted to make as many calls as they desired to seven persons they had designated. Inmates and detainees noted that they were receiving English and computer courses in addition to participating in ceramic, bookbinding, and woodworking workshops.
Other improvements noted by authorities were improvements to inmates’ bathrooms and toilets, continued maintenance and repairs of windows and walls, installation of visitor toilets, installation of new televisions in certain sections, and the opening of a new butcher section.