Prison and detention center conditions did not meet international standards in a number of areas, and prison overcrowding was a problem.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding continued to be a problem for Nicosia Central Prison, the only prison in the Republic of Cyprus, but to a lesser extent than in previous years. The prison’s official capacity was 469 inmates; the maximum number of inmates held during the year was 584. Since April the maximum number of inmates did not exceed 550, compared with 732 in 2013. The December CPT report noted, however, that the separate female section of Central Prison was seriously overcrowded, accommodating 42 women in facilities with an official capacity of 23 at the time of the CPT visit in September 2013.
The ombudsman reported a considerable decrease in the number of prisoners due to the concerted effort of the prison’s new management. During the year the prison began early release of prisoners convicted of lesser offenses and those with good behavior. Other measures introduced to ease overcrowding included the creation of a parole board, electronic monitoring of prisoners, pardoning prisoners convicted of lesser offenses or suspending their sentences, and transferring foreign prisoners to serve their sentences in their home countries.
Prison authorities held juvenile pretrial detainees in cells separate from convicted juveniles, but the two groups shared the same grounds in their daily activities.
In previous years the ombudsman reported that overcrowding made it difficult for prison authorities to maintain separation of convicted criminals from pretrial detainees and that authorities held long- and short-term prisoners together. According to the ombudsman, overcrowding had serious repercussions on the health of both prisoners and staff due to the lack of sufficient hygiene facilities and a health center, which has since been constructed. Prison authorities confirmed that overcrowding prevented separation of prisoners by health condition and also prevented separate detention space for drug users.
Prisoners complained of mistreatment while in confinement and abuse in police stations prior to their transfer to the prison. Sex offenders complained prison staff did not intervene when they were threatened and, in some cases, beaten by other inmates. Most juvenile prisoners complained of verbal abuse by prison staff. Problems reported in detention centers included the lack of outdoor exercise areas in three of the four centers inspected, the absence of any creative activities, and delays in accessing medical services. Detainees complained about the quality and, in some cases, the quantity of food. The report also established that authorities held individuals detained on deportation orders in nearly all police stations together with detainees charged with criminal offenses.
Approximately 53 percent of prisoners were non-Cypriots held for illegal entry, stay, and employment; theft; burglary; drugs; unpaid fines; and other offenses.
Several individuals died during the year in the Central Prison and in police detention centers. On January 12, authorities found an Iranian man, serving a long drug trafficking-related sentence, dead and hanging by a bed sheet in his cell in the Central Prison. On January 14, a Bulgarian man, convicted of rape in 2010 and serving a 12-year sentence, was found dead in his cell, hanging by a bed sheet. On March 15, a Latvian man hanged himself using his bed sheet in a Limassol police headquarters holding cell. The man had been arrested for theft and was due to be released in three days. On August 25, a Cypriot man serving a life sentence for murder was found hanged in his cell in the Central Prison. Authorities arrested three prison wardens and charged them with neglecting their duties, falsifying prison records, and providing a false statement to the police.
On January 9, a Romanian inmate in the Central Prison claimed he was gang-raped by four other prisoners. Officials transferred him to a hospital, where the state pathologist confirmed the rape. Prisoners at the Central Prison rioted after the news of the rape and the January suicides. On January 14, the minister of justice announced the immediate removal of the acting chief of the prison, the suspension of one officer and seven prison guards, the creation of a special police unit to investigate the suicides and the rape, and other measures to improve the management and condition of the prisons and to combat corruption. President Anastasiades visited the rape victim at the hospital and encouraged him to testify against the perpetrators. The attorney general ordered the prosecution of the four suspected rapists.
Prisoners in the central prison and detainees in detention centers had access to potable water and generally sufficient food.
The ombudsman reported that detainees held at the Mennoyia detention center continued to submit complaints during the year. For example, the ombudsman received a complaint from a migrant woman detained for deportation that police physically abused her. The Ombudsman’s Office was investigating the complaint. The Ombudsman’s Office also examined several complaints of mistreatment against a specific police officer working at the center. The investigation did not lead to concrete conclusions, but at the ombudsman’s recommendation, the center’s management issued written guidelines instructing personnel to show respect for the rights of detainees, use only necessary and proportional force, care for the special needs of detainees in a compassionate and humanitarian manner, and improve recordkeeping. The ombudsman also reported the new management of the center made improvements to the living conditions of detainees, such as access to medical care on a daily basis and frequent access to physiological care. It also increased efforts to resolve problems related to the detainees dietary needs and extended camera coverage in specific areas recommended by the ombudsman.
In its annual report for 2013, released in November, the Independent Authority for the Prevention of Torture (IAPT), one of the competencies of the Office of the Ombudsman, reported that its visits to Mennoyia detention center established that, while the facilities were satisfactory overall, detainees submitted complaints mainly about four issues. Detainees cited problems with the quality and quantity of food, the lack of translation services to inform some detainees about their rights in a language they understood, the ending of visiting hours earlier than the time specified by regulations, and the requirement that detainees inform authorities about expected visits 24 hours in advance, a demand that was not consistent with regulations. The ombudsman established that immigration police officers entered the facilities in plain clothes and interviewed detainees in areas not covered by closed-circuit television. Detainees were transferred within the detention center and handcuffed; many of them complained that they were not given access to the asylum procedure. The ombudsman also reported that after she submitted a relevant report to the minister of justice, the commander of the Police Aliens and Immigration Department instructed detention authorities to implement all the recommendations in the report.
The same report contained the findings of the IAPT visit to Pera Chorio police detention center in July 2013. The detention center is for women only. The IAPT found that living conditions, i.e. hygiene, the outdoor area for exercise, and the area to receive visitors, were satisfactory but that the center did not offer any recreation facilities and that women detained for deportation were held together with women facing criminal charges. The IAPT received one complaint from a detainee that she was not informed of her rights in her own language. The IAPT reported that after the submission of a relevant report making recommendations for improvements, detention center authorities implemented the recommendations, separating detainees, installing a television, and stocking books and magazines in several languages. They also issued new instructions to personnel to ensure detainees are informed of their rights in a language they understand.
Administration: Recordkeeping on prisoners was adequate. Authorities used community service as an alternative to prison confinement for nonviolent offenders. Prisoners in the central prison had access to a church and mosque, and prison officials stated they facilitated religious observance. Detention centers did not have facilities for religious observance. Prisoners and detainees could submit complaints to the ombudsman without censorship.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by independent human rights observers, and such visits, unrestricted and unannounced, occurred during the year. The ombudsman, the National Preventive Mechanism, and the prison board visited Nicosia Central Prison on a regular basis. The House of Representatives Committee on Equal Opportunities for Men and Women, the commissioner for children’s rights, and the commissioner for the protection of personal data also visited the prison.
Improvements: During the year the government appointed an expert on detention practices to advise the minister of justice, liaise with the prisons department, oversee reforms in the prison, and consult with the ombudsman, NGOs, and government agencies on improving prison conditions. The government also appointed an independent committee to review prison laws and regulations and make recommendations by the end of the year to bring them up to international human rights standards and European Court of Human Rights case law. The government reported that the new human rights policy approach to prisoners had ended all unnecessary disciplinary measures. Prison officers accused of mistreating inmates were suspended from duty, and all allegations of mistreatment were investigated by prison management, police, the ombudsman, and investigators appointed by the attorney general.
Authorities continued construction to increase capacity and improve sanitary conditions at the Nicosia Central Prison. Prison capacity increased to 469 from 455. Expansion work and renovations continued. The Ministry of Justice reported construction had started on new private cells in the women’s section of the prison. Authorities also made improvements to lighting, ventilation, cell size, equipment, and sanitation facilities. The prison theater, previously used as a dormitory for inmates, was returned to its function as a theater. Most wings were equipped with gyms for daily training. All cells conformed to CPT standards, and most were equipped with entertainment equipment such as televisions and CD and DVD players. Each cell had no more than two inmates. Authorities amended visitation rights so that all inmates were allowed to have open visits and inmates with children were allowed to meet them in the open prison area. Prior restrictions on visits by religious representatives were lifted. Prison management increased the quantity of food and the frequency of prisoners’ telephone calls from six to 10 per day. The Prison Department with the Ministry of Health began providing detoxification, evaluation, and rehabilitation services for drug addicts.
During the year authorities opened a health center in the Central Prison and increased the number of mental health professionals, making mental health services available 24 hours a day. Following a spate of suicides in 2013 and early 2014, the Ministry of Justice, in collaboration with the ombudsman, issued a manual with guidelines for the prevention of suicides in prisons and detention centers.
Following a change in prison management in January and efforts to alleviate the problems recorded in her previous reports, the ombudsman reported a decrease in complaints concerning physical abuse and degrading and discriminatory treatment of prisoners and detainees in the Central Prison.