US notes improvements in religious freedoms in Cyprus

The US’ annual report on international religious freedom noted some improvements in Cyprus but ongoing issues remain, while also making mention of notable incidents.

On a positive note, the report, published on May 12, cited NGO Caritas as saying that discrimination against Muslim children in school across the Republic declined and stated that increased diversity awareness and language training generally improved behaviour.

Representatives of the Jewish community reported that there were no incidents of anti-Semitic verbal harassment in public spaces.

The report cited various instances of societal pressure from religious minorities to play down their faith while some Greek Orthodox adherents who converted to other faiths continue to hide their conversion due to fear of societal ostracism.

It was also said that Armenian Orthodox army recruits reportedly continued to feel peer pressure to take the oath administered by a Greek Orthodox priest.

It was reiterated that Greek Orthodox children in primary schools may not opt out from religious services.

Meanwhile, two of the eight functioning mosques under the guardianship of the interior ministry “continued to lack bathroom and ablution facilities”.

The report also gave prominence to the attack at the Limassol mosque where unknown person sprayed anti-Muslim, anti-migrant graffiti on the wall surrounding the mosque.

Kosher and halal meat has also become an issue of concern to the two impacted communities, but concerns over slaughtering animals without stunning them were strongly raised by animal rights activists.

Across both sides of the divide, access to places of worship remains an ongoing issue.

In the north, according to the report, Turkish Cypriot authorities continued to grant improved access to Greek Orthodox religious sites, although visits declined due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Turkish-Speaking Protestant Associations (TSPA) representatives continued to report police surveillance of their activities while Greek Orthodox representatives said that police monitored their church services.

“They reported plainclothes police officers present during services checked priests’ identification and monitored the congregation,” the US report read.

A Greek Orthodox representative stated 63 religious sites remained inaccessible due to their being located within Turkish military zones or the buffer zone.

The TSPA again said Turkish Cypriots who converted to other faiths, particularly Christianity, faced societal criticism and feared losing their jobs.

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