The government approved the registration of a Buddhist organization as a nonprofit organization in July.
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 mosques located on cultural heritage sites and denied them any administrative authority over the 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 reported there were no bathrooms at the Bayraktar Mosque in the government-controlled area. The Ministry of Communications and Works’ Department of Antiquities responded that it provided bathroom facilities at a distance of approximately 100 meters away, because the mosque is part of the medieval Venetian wall of the city, making it impossible to install sewage pipes. By year’s end the government had not decided on a Muslim leader’s request for permission to make improvements at the functioning mosques.
Turkish Cypriots stated the Department of Antiquities kept the Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque, the most important Islamic religious site in the country, open during standard museum hours, limiting access to the mosque to two of the five daily prayer times. The mosque’s imam had to notify the Ministry of the Interior and Department of Antiquities to keep the mosque open after 5:00 p.m. in the autumn/winter months and after 7:30 p.m. in the spring/summer months. In order to cross the “green line” without identification checks to visit religious sites, Turkish Cypriots were required to submit their requests to UNFICYP, which then facilitated the approval process with the government.
The government waived visa requirements for the movement of pilgrims south across the “green line” to visit Hala Sultan Tekke to conduct prayers and services. On July 21, 1,000 pilgrims crossed into the government-controlled areas for a pilgrimage to Hala Sultan Tekke on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr. The crossing was the result of an agreement between Archbishop Chrysostomos and Mufti Atalay on July 8. On September 30, the police escorted approximately 1,000 Turkish Cypriots, Turks, and other foreign nationals to Hala Sultan Tekke for prayers shortly after the end of Eid al-Adha. For the first time, a Greek Orthodox priest attended the service representing the archbishop. On December 23, 1,000 Turkish and Turkish Cypriot pilgrims visited Hala Sultan Tekke for prayers commemorating the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday.
The ombudsman reported in June her office had examined four complaints she had received in 2014 related to the implementation of the Ministry of Education’s policy on religious freedom in education. In one of these, the parents of a high school student stated the school’s deputy principal pressured and threatened the student when he refused to participate in a school-organized religious service. In another complaint, the parents of a student exempted from religious instruction said he was punished with unexcused absences for not attending religion classes. The problem was rectified after the submission of an additional complaint to the school administration. The Association of Atheists of Cyprus complained about a 2013 Ministry of Education circular encouraging public schools to organize groups of pupils to help during the liturgy at Greek Orthodox Churches and to participate in children’s church choirs. A secondary school student submitted the fourth complaint after the Ministry of Education rejected his application for exemption from religious instruction on the grounds of conscience. The ministry said the student should have stated in his application he was not an Orthodox Christian in order to qualify for exemption.
The ombudsman concluded, after examining the four complaints, the Ministry of Education followed practices that did not safeguard the state’s neutrality and obstructed freedom of religion, thought, expression, and conscience, which created the reasonable impression it favored a specific religion. Following consultations with the ombudsman, the ministry issued a new circular amending the policy on exemptions. The ombudsman objected to the circular because it required applicants to state their religion. The ombudsman’s office reported it continued to receive complaints after the implementation of the new policy and sent a letter to the Ministry of Education pointing out the problematic aspects of the new policy. The ombudsman continued to monitor this issue.
The pastor of the Evangelical Christian Center in Nicosia stated in January evangelical prisoners in the Central Prison did not receive the same treatment as Christian Orthodox and Muslim prisoners. He said the Orthodox and Muslim prisoners attended religious services within the prison compound once a week, whereas evangelical Christians were allowed to congregate twice a month and participation was restricted only to those whom the pastor named in advance.
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.
Unlike in previous years, although the government’s policies remained unchanged, there were no reports of criticism from NGOs or religious groups that alternative service for conscientious objectors was longer than military service or that the procedure to determine conscientious objector status was not independent and impartial. The Office of the Ombudsman did not receive any complaints from conscientious objectors about the procedures the government used to confirm their conscientious objector status and eligibility for alternative service.