Muslim community leaders complained that the government had not granted them full access to and administration of mosques that are located on cultural heritage sites.
Turkish Cypriots had relatively easy access to religious sites in the government-controlled area. 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. Throughout the year thousands of Turkish Cypriots visited the Hala Sultan Tekke to conduct prayers and services. Friday afternoon prayers have been ongoing since 2008 and Ramadan services on the Night of Kadir (27th night of Ramadan) have been performed since 2009.
Muslim leaders complained that the restoration of mosques was conducted without consultation with religious authorities and thus violated the sanctity of the space or appropriate use. An example was the restoration of a mosque in Nisou where the garden was landscaped and bones were claimed to have been found and reburied without the presence of an imam. Muslims reported the restoration did not include a washroom; therefore ablutions cannot be performed prior to prayers.
The Ministry of Commerce generally granted religious groups registration as nonprofit organizations.
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. The ombudsman’s office did not receive any complaints from conscientious objectors about the procedures the government used to confirm their conscientious objector status and eligibility for alternative military service.
A number of religious groups complained that the government’s reluctance to issue visas and residency permits to individuals from countries outside the EU has affected them. The Buddhist community reported difficulties in obtaining visas for clergy. The Jewish community complained about difficulties that student volunteers faced in obtaining government permission for extending their residency, and the Catholic Church said it had difficulties regarding the status of clergy from foreign countries.
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 continued to complain that prison management restricted their religious rights. The ombudsman reported on November 25, that she reiterated to prison authorities her previous recommendations regarding prisoners’ religious rights. She did not report any specific complaints in 2013. In April 2012, the ombudsman reported that some members of the Church of Cyprus from Pontus had 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 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 MOE generally granted exemptions 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 MOE and the government’s ombudsman. The ombudsman issued a report in December of 2012, but continued this year to evaluate the MOE’s responses to requests for exemptions.