The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and protects the right of individuals to profess their faith and to worship, teach, and practice or observe their religion, individually or collectively, in private or in public, subject to limitations due to considerations of national security or public health, safety, order, and morals or the protection of civil liberties. The constitution specifies all religions whose doctrines or rites are not secret are free and equal before the law. It protects the right to change one’s religion and prohibits the use of physical or moral compulsion to make a person change, or prevent a person from changing, their religion.
The constitution grants the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus (Church of Cyprus) the exclusive right to regulate and administer the church’s internal affairs and property in accordance with its canons and charter. By law, the Church of Cyprus pays taxes only on commercial activities.
The constitution sets guidelines for the Islamic Vakf, which is tax exempt and has the right to regulate and administer its internal affairs and property in accordance with its laws and principles. According to the constitution, no legislative, executive, or other act may contravene or interfere with the Church of Cyprus or the Vakf. The Vakf, which acts as caretaker of religious properties in the Turkish Cypriot community, operates only in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. The government administers and provides financial support for the physical maintenance of mosques in government-controlled areas.
In addition to the Church of Cyprus and Islam, the constitution recognizes three other religious groups: Maronite Catholics, Armenian Orthodox, and Latins (Latin Rite Roman Catholics). These groups’ institutions are tax exempt and eligible for government subsidies for cultural and educational matters, including to cover costs to operate their own schools, for school fees of group members attending private schools, and for activities to preserve their cultural identity.
Religious groups not recognized in the constitution must register with the government as nonprofit organizations to engage in financial transactions and maintain bank accounts. To register, a religious group must submit, through an attorney, an application to the Registrar of Companies under the Ministry of Energy, Commerce, and Industry stating its purpose and providing the names of its directors. Religious groups registered as nonprofit organizations are treated the same as other nonprofit organizations. They are tax exempt, must provide annual reports to the government, and are not eligible for government subsidies.
The clergy of the five religious communities (recognized by the constitution have the authority to perform marriage ceremonies and may sign marriage certificates. Members of the clergy of other faiths must apply to the Ministry of Interior (MOI) for authorization to perform marriages. The list of authorized marriage officers is published in the Official Gazette. Divorce requires a court decision. A state physician or pathologist, not a member of the clergy, signs death certificates.
According to the law, the Armenian, Maronite, and Latin communities each have an elected representative to parliament who has nonvoting observer status. Members of these communities also may run for any of the 56 seats that have voting rights in the body.
The government has formal processes by which religious groups may apply to use restored religious heritage sites for religious purposes.
According to public school regulations, students are not permitted to cover their heads in school. The regulation explicitly states, however, that this prohibition should be implemented without discriminating against a student’s religion, race, color, gender, or any political or other convictions of the student or the parents. This language allows schools to be flexible and permit students to wear head coverings.
The law criminalizes incitement to hatred and violence based on race, color, religion, genealogical origin, national or ethnic origin, or sexual orientation. Such acts are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to €10,000 ($10,700), or both.
The law requires animal stunning before slaughter. No religious exemptions are allowed.
The government requires Greek Orthodox religious instruction and attendance at religious services before major Greek Orthodox religious holidays in public primary and secondary schools. The Ministry of Education (MOE) may excuse primary school students of other religious groups from attending religious services and instruction at the request of their parents or guardians, but Greek Orthodox children in primary school may not opt out. The MOE may excuse secondary school students from religious instruction on grounds of religion or conscience and may excuse them from attending religious services on any grounds at the request of their parents or guardians, or at their own request if over the age of 16.
The Office of the Commissioner for Administration and Protection of Human Rights (informally called the “ombudsman”) is an independent state institution responsible for protecting citizens’ rights and human rights in general. The ombudsman may investigate complaints made against any public service agency or official for actions that violate human rights, including freedom of religion, or contravene the laws or rules of proper administration. The ombudsman makes recommendations to correct wrongdoings but is unable to enforce them.
Conscientious objectors on religious grounds are exempt from active military duty and from reservist service in the National Guard but must complete alternative service. The two options available for conscientious objectors are unarmed military service, which is a maximum of four months longer than the normal 14-month service, or social service, which is a maximum of eight months longer than normal service but requires fewer hours of work per day. The penalty for refusing military or alternative service is up to three years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to €6,000 ($6,400), or both. Those who refuse both military and alternative service, even if objecting on religious grounds, are considered culpable of an offense involving dishonesty or moral turpitude, are disqualified from holding elected public office, and are ineligible for permits to provide private security services.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Religious leaders in the government-controlled area said removing obstacles to access to churches, mosques, and monasteries on both sides of the island was their top priority. Imam Shakir Alemdar, a representative of the Muslim community, stated the Department of Antiquities informed him that restoration of the Limassol Great Mosque started in September. The Department of Antiquities closed the mosque in August 2019 without previously informing the Muslim community of the nature of, or timeline for, the restoration. The department conserved and opened Arnavout Mosque in Limassol in 2021 to accommodate the needs of the Muslim community pending completion of the restoration of the Limassol Great Mosque. The MOI reported that it expected the restoration to be completed by 2024. Media reported the government of Qatar donated €1.2 million ($1.28 million) for the restoration of the mosque.
Muslim community leaders stated the government continued to allow the community access for religious services at only six of the 19 mosques designated as cultural heritage sites as well as at two other mosques not located on such sites. Of the eight functioning mosques, seven were available for all five daily prayers and seven had the necessary facilities for ablutions.
The government failed to respond to the Muslim community’s longstanding request for permission to make improvements at some of the functioning mosques. According to Imam Alemdar, the functioning mosque in Paphos was too small for the size of the Muslim congregation, holding approximately 100 worshippers, compared with an estimated Muslim population of approximately 5,000 in the area. The lack of space prevented adherents, especially women, from attending the prayers. Authorities denied Imam Alemdar’s request to use the mosque in the village of Kato Arodhes in Paphos District for the Ramadan period.
During the year, Dhali Mosque continued to operate without ablution facilities or bathrooms; it was the only one of the eight functioning mosques lacking such facilities. In 2019, the MOI said installing facilities at Dhali Mosque was difficult due to limited space near the mosque but that it planned to identify a suitable location and develop new plans. In December 2021, the MOI reported that the only available space for the construction of facilities at the mosque was behind the uninhabited house intended for the mosque’s imam. MOI inspectors reportedly found the house structurally unsafe and decided not to proceed with construction because use of the facilities would require passage through the house. The MOI was preparing a study for the stabilization of the house at year’s end.
Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque, considered the most historically important Islamic religious site in the country because of its ties to a companion of the Prophet Muhammad, continued to be the only one of the eight functioning mosques not regularly open for all five daily prayers. The Department of Antiquities classified the mosque as an “ancient monument” and continued to keep it open only for standard museum hours, which permitted access to the mosque for only two of the five daily prayer times during most of the year. The imam reported the mosque remained open until midnight only during Ramadan. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, a limited number of persons attended communal prayers during Ramadan and services were recorded and uploaded on YouTube. According to the Department of Antiquities and the mosque’s imam, the imam had to obtain permission from the MOI and Department of Antiquities to keep the mosque open after 5 p.m. in the autumn and winter months and after 7:30 p.m. in the spring and summer months. The imam said the authorities routinely granted permission for extended hours.
Representatives of the Jewish community continued to report that authorities performed autopsies on deceased members of the community for deaths that were not suspicious, a practice they said violated Jewish religious beliefs and practice. Jewish representatives stated that despite continuing efforts to raise the issue with government authorities during the year, it remained unresolved. The Jewish community reported that they resorted to courts to prevent autopsies that conflicted with their religious beliefs. According to the law, the state pathologist determines which deaths require autopsies.
Jewish representatives reported that Department of Veterinary Services officials denied exemptions from the requirement to stun animals before slaughter following a 2019 department decision to no longer grant exemptions for religious slaughter. The Jewish community reported it was able to import kosher meat from other European Union (EU) countries at a significantly higher cost than if it were locally available. A Muslim community representative reported the community did not face difficulties accessing halal meat.
Jewish representatives said the government continued not to respond to their longstanding request, first made in 2017 and most recently renewed in August, to grant the Chief Rabbinate of Cyprus the right to sign official documents, including marriage, death, and divorce certificates, as an authorized party. The Jewish community reported that, during the year, it submitted up-to-date documentation asked for by the government in order to re-examine the request. A response was pending at year’s end.
A Jehovah’s Witnesses representative said that some local government authorities did not allow Jehovah’s Witnesses to bury their adherents in some municipal cemeteries, which were often managed by local Greek Orthodox churches. During the year, the Municipality of Tseri denied permission for the burial of a Jehovah’s Witness at their municipal cemetery. Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives submitted a complaint to the ombudsman’s office. A response was pending at year’s end. The MOI did not respond to a Jehovah’s Witnesses request submitted in 2019 for assistance with the municipalities.
According to a Muslim community representative, the lack of available spaces for Islamic burials was resolved after the Muslim community cleaned up overgrown vegetation at the Larnaca Turkish cemetery and used available space at the Paphos Turkish cemetery. In 2020, the Ministry of Interior denied the request of Imam Alemdar to use Vakf property near the Hala Sultan Mosque as a cemetery.
The military continued to require recruits to take part in a common prayer led by Church of Cyprus clergy during swearing-in ceremonies. Recruits of other faiths, atheists, and those who did not wish to take the oath for reasons of conscience could refrain from raising their hand during the ceremony. They instead recited a pledge of allegiance at a separate gathering.