There were no reports of abuses of religious freedom in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. The politically divisive environment has resulted in restrictions on religious freedom, particularly for Greek Cypriot Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Maronite Christians.
Some religious groups reported that their activities were monitored by Turkish Cypriot authorities, including “police,” and the monitoring was perceived as intimidation and harassment. They reported increased police presence, compared to previous years, during church services. A resident Greek Cypriot Orthodox priest reported that the “police” were questioning him with increased frequency about his activities.
Greek Cypriot Orthodox and Maronite Catholics continued to be prohibited from visiting most religious sites located in military zones in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. The Jewish community reported that a cemetery remained inaccessible, due to its location in a military zone.
In February, authorities in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots revised regulations related to religious services for Greek Cypriot Orthodox and Maronite Catholics residents. Turkish Cypriot authorities announced that Greek Cypriots and Maronite Catholics resident in the north could hold liturgies or masses conducted by designated priests at designated churches in their areas of residence without seeking permission. Permission is required for religious services to be held at churches or monasteries other than those six designated by authorities, for religious services conducted by priests other than those with official designation, and for services that include participants who are not residents in the area.
Some religious groups complained that authorities often took several months to respond to requests for permission to conduct ceremonies, often not providing answers until only days before the requested dates. A Greek Cypriot Orthodox Bishop reported that an April 7 request to conduct a liturgy at the Church of Saint George on April 25 was denied only on April 20, without justification. A second request submitted on May 5 to conduct a liturgy at the same church on June 4 was denied on May 31, with the explanation that the church had been handed over to the “TRNC Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports” for use as a youth center.
In March Turkish Cypriot officials at Pergamos crossing point stopped a car with three Greek Cypriot passengers and confiscated 204 religious books, reportedly destined for students and faculty of the Greek Cypriot schools in the north.
The Turkish Cypriot authorities did not allow a Greek Cypriot Orthodox bishop, whose authority is not recognized by Turkish Cypriot officials, to lead services during July, August, and November.
Turkish Cypriot Murat Kanatli has declared his conscientious objection to the one-day annual reserve duty requirement since 2009. In June he appeared in “military court” on charges relating to his refusal to serve. In December, the “Military Court” in the north referred the case to the “Constitutional Court” on the basis of freedom of thought and expression provisions. The case has prompted several additional declarations of conscientious objection.
Some groups complained that some religious sites, to which they had little or no access, were damaged or close to collapse. The most recent reports indicate that Turkish Cypriot authorities have spent 546,430 Turkish lira ($346,000) since 2006 to complete the restoration of 15 Greek Cypriot Orthodox churches in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. Some Greek Cypriot Orthodox and Maronite churches were converted to other uses. One religious group complained that religious items were being held in museums against the wishes of the community.
While Turkish Cypriot authorities facilitated the construction of a number of mosques with funding from Turkey, construction of facilities for non-Sunni Muslims remained unfunded even though some groups lacked facilities.
Alevis, recognized by Turkish Cypriot authorities as only an association and not as a religious group, reported they were unable to build a cem evi (house of worship) for gatherings due to lack of funding. They also reported that due to “regulations,” as well as lack of a house of worship, they were required to conduct funerals inside mosques, contrary to their traditions. As an alternative, the Alevis were raising funds for the construction of a cultural center and place of worship through private donations.
A Turkish-speaking Protestant congregation reported that authorities continued to be unresponsive to the group’s application to obtain legal status as an “association,” and reportedly requested that the congregation provide 15 potential names for their association that did not include any religious words. The group’s inability to register to date prevented them from establishing a trust fund and purchasing property.
There is compulsory instruction in religion, culture, and ethics in grades four through eight in all schools. At the high school level, such instruction is optional. There is no formal Islamic religious instruction in public schools. There are no “state-supported” religious schools.