The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and protects the freedom to worship, teach, and practice one’s religion. It grants the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus the exclusive right to regulate and administer its internal affairs and recognizes the Vakf, an Islamic institution that manages land Muslims have donated as an endowment for charitable purposes as well as sites of worship. The government granted Turkish Cypriots access to religious sites in the area it controls, including for visits by approximately 2,650 Turkish Cypriots and foreign nationals to Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque on three occasions. Seven of the eight functioning mosques, with the exception of Hala Sultan Tekke, in the government-controlled area were open for all five daily prayers, and six had the necessary facilities for ablutions. Despite long-standing requests, the government did not grant permission to the Muslim community to make improvements at mosques. A representative of the Buddhist community reported authorities raised obstacles to the operation of a temple in a village outside of Nicosia and forced the community to relocate the temple. In July the government removed a requirement to designate a person’s religion on civil marriage applications and certificates. The ombudsman’s office reported it was investigating new complaints regarding Ministry of Education (MOE) regulations for exempting students from religious instruction. The government required those who objected to military service on religious grounds to perform alternate service for longer periods.
The Jewish community reported incidents of assault, verbal harassment, and vandalism. Some religious minority groups reported pressure to engage in religious ceremonies of majority groups. Members of the Greek Orthodox majority reported they sometimes faced social ostracism from the Greek Orthodox community if they converted to another religion, such as Islam. A hotel reportedly refused to hire Muslim women for a cleaning job because they wore a hijab. In June a bicommunal working group set up as part of the UN-facilitated settlement talks completed the restoration of Koprulu Mosque in Limassol and Mathiatis Mosque in Nicosia district, and in October the Department of Antiquities completed the restoration of Arnavut Mosque in Limassol. The United Nations introduced religious groups and civil society organizations to its “Faith for Rights” initiative, which aimed to strengthen and deepen the connections between religious groups and human rights. The religious and civil society groups reportedly received the initiative positively and discussed ways to engage the public in a dialogue on protecting human rights to promote freedom of religion. Leaders of the main religious groups on the island continued to meet and reaffirmed their commitment to the promotion of religious freedom across the island. In October the Office of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process (RTCYPP) launched a pilot program offering Greek and Turkish language classes for priests, imams, nuns, and laypersons who worked for faith-based organizations.
U.S. embassy staff met with the government, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and religious leaders to discuss religious freedom issues, including access to religious sites island-wide and discriminatory treatment of minority religious groups. Embassy officials encouraged religious leaders to continue their dialogue and hold reciprocal visits to places of religious significance on either side of the “green line.”