Turkish Cypriots were granted access to religious sites in the government-controlled area; however, Muslim community leaders stated the government had not granted them full access to and administration of mosques located on cultural heritage sites. Eight mosques in the government-controlled area were open. Six of those were available for all five daily prayers and had the necessary facilities for ablutions. A Muslim leader requested, but had not yet been granted, permission to make improvements at the functioning mosques.
Turkish Cypriots stated the Ministry of Communications and Works Department of Antiquities kept the 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. The imam had to apply to the Ministry of the Interior for permission to open the mosque after 5:00 p.m. In order to cross the “green line” without identification checks to visit religious sites, Turkish Cypriots were required to submit their requests to the UNFICYP, which then facilitated the approval process with the government. The UNFICYP reported that of the three requests made by Turkish Cypriot authorities, two pilgrimages to Hala Sultan Tekke were approved, but a requested celebration of Kurban Bayram (Eid al Adha) at Hala Sultan Tekke did not take place because of the lack of an agreement on the crossing point to be used for the purpose.
Throughout the year, the government facilitated the crossing of thousands of Turkish Cypriots and foreign nationals south of the “green line” to visit Hala Sultan Tekke to conduct prayers and services. On July 28, the police escorted about 1,000 Turkish Cypriots, Turks, and other foreign nationals to Hala Sultan Tekke for Ramadan Bayram prayers. On November 22, the press reported the government again facilitated the crossing of over 1,000 Turkish Cypriots and Turks from the north to celebrate the first day of the Islamic calendar at Hala Sultan Tekke.
The Ministry of Commerce approved all applications submitted during the year from religious groups registering as nonprofit organizations.
The international NGO Conscience and Peace Tax International and the Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to report on the longer duration of alternative service for conscientious objectors compared to military service, which they considered to be a punitive measure. In a report prepared in April, Conscience and Tax Peace International noted the government had not reduced the length of service for conscientious objectors. The report also stated the submission of conscientious objector status applications to the Ministry of Defense did not constitute an independent and impartial decision making process. 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 said the government’s reported reluctance to issue visas and residency permits to individuals from countries outside the European Union (EU) had affected them. The Jewish community said student volunteers faced difficulties obtaining government permission to extend their residency, and the Catholic Church said it had difficulties regarding the extension of residency permits of clergy from foreign countries.
Military recruits were required 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 were not required to raise their hand during the swearing-in ceremony. They instead gave a pledge of allegiance at a separate gathering.
The Central Prison management amended prison regulations to allow visits by representatives of any religious group, not only representatives of the group with which the prisoner had declared affiliation upon admission to prison. In previous years, some prisoners had complained that prison management restricted their religious rights. The ombudsman had also recommended a change in policy. The ombudsman did not report any new complaints concerning prisoners’ religious rights.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses, who had previously reported problems obtaining exemptions for children from religious instruction, stated the MOE granted all requested exemptions during the year. They also reported their children had not experienced difficulties in being excused from attending school performances containing religious content. The ombudsman’s office received one complaint that a Jehovah’s Witness student who had been exempted from religious instruction was punished with unexcused absences for not attending religious instruction classes, and the ombudsman’s office was investigating the complaint at year’s end. The ombudsman continued to monitor implementation of the MOE’s policy on exemptions and maintained an ongoing dialogue with the MOE on religious freedom in education.
In February the ombudsman issued a report on a 2013 complaint by the Turkish Cypriot parents of students in Nicosia’s English School over the school board’s failure to include the religious Kurban Bayram holiday as an official school holiday. The English School was the only secondary school in Nicosia designed to be bicommunal and had approximately 150 Turkish Cypriot students who commuted from the area administered by the Turkish Cypriots. In 2013, the presidential commissioner had urged the school board to make Kurban Bayram an official school holiday, but the school board had decided instead to give all Muslim students and faculty three days of excused absence during the Kurban Bayram holidays instead. The ombudsman’s report recommended the school board revise its decision and consider making all main Muslim holidays official school holidays. In September the Supreme Court rejected the Turkish Cypriot parents’ petition for a judicial order requiring the English School to establish Kurban Bayram as an official school holiday. The Supreme Court ruled the English school was not a public authority and was not obligated to accede to the parents’ request.