There were no reports of abuses of religious freedom.
The Ministry of Commerce generally granted religious groups registration as nonprofit organizations promptly.
Turkish Cypriots had relatively easy access to religious sites in the government-controlled area. A Turkish Cypriot authority reported, however, that Turkish Cypriot cemeteries and mosques in the villages of Kosi and Aplanda in the Larnaca district were inaccessible because they were within Greek Cypriot military camps. Turkish Cypriot authorities also stated that Greek Cypriot maintenance of mosques was limited to the main city centers and tourist areas, and that other mosques in the government-controlled area were neglected. In addition, Turkish Cypriots stated that the Ministry of Communications and Works’ Department of Antiquities kept Hala Sultan Tekke (Mosque) open only during conventional museum hours, thus limiting access to the mosque to only two of the five daily prayer times.
On March 9, the press reported that police in Ayia Napa approached two Jehovah’s Witnesses distributing religious publications in the street and issued them each 85 euro ($111.35) fines for solicitation. Upon learning of the incident, the attorney general ordered that the fines be rescinded. The ombudsman, an independent state official, examined the complaint submitted by the Jehovah’s Witnesses and noted that police leadership had not issued specific guidance to police officers on the legal right to proselytize.
The international nonprofit organization Conscience and Peace Tax International and the Jehovah’s Witnesses argued that the longer duration of alternative service for conscientious objectors compared to military service was punitive. In contrast to previous years, the ombudsman’s office did not receive any complaints from conscientious objectors about the procedures used by the government to confirm their conscientious objector status and eligibility for alternative military service.
The Buddhist community continued to face difficulties finding a site for a permanent temple. The community purchased land outside of Nicosia, but building regulations allowed for only 6 percent of the land to be used for habitable structures. Following denial of the community’s request for a variance, the Interior Ministry proposed an exchange of the Buddhists’ land for government land, although at year’s end the exchange had not been completed. The group continued to use a meditation center in Nicosia as a temple.
Several religious groups reported difficulties obtaining visas and residency permits for clergy and student volunteers from countries outside the European Union. The government did not process applications and renewals in a timely manner, and some groups reported that some members were forced to leave the country rather than risk staying illegally and face possible deportation.
Minority religious groups reported that military recruits rarely requested to be excused from taking part in a common prayer led by Church of Cyprus clergy during swearing-in ceremonies because they feared such a request would attract negative attention.
Some prisoners in the Central Prison stated that prison management restricted their religious rights. In April the ombudsman reported that some members of the Church of Cyprus from Pontus filed a complaint that the prison management had denied them access to the church on November 21, 2011, an important religious holiday. The ombudsman also reported in April that prison management did not allow representatives of the Christian Center, an evangelical group located in Nicosia, to visit prisoners who had expressed the wish to meet with them. Prison management informed the ombudsman that prison regulations did not allow prisoners to be visited by representatives of a religious group other than the one they had declared upon admission into the prison. The ombudsman concluded that in both cases the prison management had restricted the religious freedom of the prisoners. The ombudsman recommended an amendment of the prison regulations to allow prisoners to meet with representatives of any religious group as desired.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses, which had previously reported problems obtaining exemptions for children from religious instruction, stated that the Ministry of Education generally granted exemptions promptly and that their children did not experience difficulties in being excused from attending school performances containing religious content. However, the Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that some schools did not make arrangements for the students to engage in supervised school work during the time of religious instruction class, as required by regulations. In one case, a school asked a student who had been granted an exemption to stay in class during religious instruction and punished her with an unexcused absence when she refused to do so. The Jehovah’s Witnesses submitted an official complaint to the Ministry of Education and the ombudsman. The complaint was being investigated at year’s end.
In October the Church of Cyprus and the Church and Society Commission of the Conference of European Churches organized a conference in Nicosia entitled “An Ongoing Need for Freedom of Religion or Belief in Cyprus,” which brought together religious and political representatives from the country and the European Union. Attendees included the archbishop of the Church of Cyprus, the Maronite Catholic archbishop, the Armenian Orthodox archbishop, the Turkish Cypriot imam of Hala Sultan Tekke, and a representative from the Anglican Church of Cyprus. The interior minister provided opening remarks.
On October 26 and 27, nearly 1,000 Turkish Cypriots visited the Hala Sultan Tekke to celebrate Kurban Bayram for the second time since 1960. In addition, nearly 600 Turkish Cypriots visited the mosque for Asura on November 25.