Prison and detention center conditions, including detention centers for asylum seekers and undocumented migrants pending deportation, did not meet international standards, 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 600. The ombudsman reported a considerable decrease in the number of prisoners due to the concerted effort of the prison’s new management.
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 its December 2014 report, the CPT noted meeting two unaccompanied juvenile asylum seekers in police stations who were “effectively held in conditions akin to solitary confinement,” notwithstanding the law that the CPT noted “provides that unaccompanied minors should only be detained as a last resort and for the shortest period possible.”
The ombudsman reported improvement in prison and detention center conditions and treatment of prisoners and detainees after several visits during the year, but the only improvement observed in detention areas in police stations was the reduction in the number of migrant detainees due to the fact that migrants detained for deportation are transferred to Menoyia within 48 hours. Prison authorities reported that prisoners are separated by health condition but overcrowding prevented separate detention space for drug users. Long-term and short-term prisoners are not held separately as prison policy for separation of prisoners is based on their individual needs, risks involved, and their behavior, and not the duration of their sentence. Prisoners serving a life sentence have a cell of their own.
Authorities reportedly held aliens detained on deportation orders in nearly all police stations together with detainees charged with criminal offenses.
Approximately 55 percent of prisoners in the Central Prison were non-Cypriots convicted for criminal offenses. One-third of non-Cypriots were convicted for immigration-related offenses, such as illegal employment and possession of false documents for entering the country.
In its annual report for 2014/15, Amnesty International criticized the routine detention of hundreds of migrants and certain categories of asylum seekers in “cramped, prison-like conditions” at the Menoyia Detention Center, the country’s main immigration detention facility, pending deportation. According to the report, detainees complained about the limited time allowed for outdoor exercise, food quality, and their cells being locked at night. In its December 2014 report, the CPT noted reports of physical mistreatment by guards at the Menoyia center as well as racial slurs and inappropriate use of tear gas by custodial personnel. The ombudsman reported that most of the complaints received from Menoyia detainees this year were related to migration issues, not to detention conditions or mistreatment. The ombudsman, however, commented that migrants and asylum seekers continue to be detained for deportation purposes for periods longer than the stated government policy, despite the fact that there was no prospect for their deportation. A considerable number of detainees at Menoyia Detention Centers are awaiting adjudication of their appeals against the rejection of their asylum applications. In some cases, detainees were deported before final adjudication of their asylum applications. The ombudsman intervened and prevented some of the deportations, warning authorities that deportations of asylum seekers while court proceedings were still pending could amount to violation of the principle of nonrefoulement, which would bring into question the legality of the deportation order and detention.
Administration: While prisoners in the Central Prison had access to a church and mosque, detention centers did not have facilities for religious observance.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by independent human rights observers, and such visits, unrestricted and unannounced, occurred during the year. The Ombudsman’s Office, in its capacity as 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. The NGO KISA reported after several visits to Menoyia Detention Center that, while detention conditions had improved, violations of the rights of detained migrants and asylum seekers continued, particularly of those who are detained for prolonged periods without a prospect for deportation and of asylum seekers whose appeals against the rejection of their asylum applications were pending before the Supreme Court.
Improvements: Construction work continued during the year to increase the capacity of the prison. To alleviate overcrowding, prison management created a network of volunteers who pay the debts of destitute prisoners with low debts and help them find employment after their release from prison. Foreign nationals sentenced to a few months’ imprisonment for entering the country illegally were deported as soon as their travel documents were ready. Prison management recommends the suspension of the sentence of foreign nationals serving short-term sentences once they are two months from their release date. To comply with CPT standards, EU prison rules and UN human rights standards, the practice of closed visits was terminated, the glass and furniture separating visitors and prisoners were removed, and prisoners were allowed physical contact with their children and family. Children with special needs, such as health and mental illnesses, could meet with prisoner parents in separate areas. Inmates had access to telephone booths from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily and prisoners who work or attend school remotely, demonstrate good behavior, or had limited financial resources, were given free use of telephones.
Since January prisoners could apply for access to Skype to keep in touch with their families. During the year prison management implemented new policies designed to provide prisoners with full access to education and vocational training of the same level, standard, and spectrum provided to people of their age group outside prison. In addition to educators provided by the government, the prison management has developed programs with Microsoft, telecommunications companies, private universities, and others to support the prison education program. Prisoners were provided with facilities for distance learning university education and 12 prisoners took advantage of this opportunity during the year.
Prison management facilitated cultural activities and participation of prisoners in charitable events. For example, in October 2015, the prison’s theatrical team staged a play, the proceeds of which went to the NGO Cyprus STOP Trafficking for the needs of victims of trafficking in persons, and LGBTI prisoners participated in the 2015 Pride Parade.
In November the health care department of the prison was reinforced with a clinical psychologist and an occupational therapist. Prison management implemented new policies to prevent mistreatment of prisoners. Prison staff submit a written report to the prison director before action can be taken against prisoners who have committed disciplinary offenses; a clear procedure has been put in place for an independent investigation of any complaints, formal or informal, of prisoner mistreatment, the protection of the prisoner involved, and the prosecution of the perpetrators.
During the year 230 prison officers participated in seminars and educational courses in the country and abroad on human rights issues, female education, employability of youths, prevention of mistreatment, diversity, treatment of detainees, terrorism, electronic monitoring, and more.