Cyprus: Police violence must be investigated and blanket ban on protest lifted 

Ahead of tomorrow's official announcement by the Cyprus government on the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, Amnesty International is urging Cypriot authorities to lift an unlawful and disproportionate blanket ban on demonstrations. 

The call comes just days after authorities, enforcing the ban, subjected peaceful anti-corruption protesters to beatings, water cannon, chemical irritants and stun grenades. Interviews with protesters who were at the demonstration, during which one woman suffered a permanent injury to her sight and review of audio-visual material, paint a bleak picture of violence against peaceful protesters.

The shocking violence meted out by police on peaceful protesters on 13 February represented an unnecessary and excessive use of force
Kondylia Gogou, Amnesty International

“The shocking violence meted out by police on peaceful protesters on 13 February represented an unnecessary and excessive use of force,” said Kondylia Gogou, Greece and Cyprus Researcher at Amnesty International. 

“These violent actions by the police highlight the lengths to which Cypriot authorities will go to enforce this unjustified blanket ban on demonstrations. They are also part of a deeply worrying pattern in Cyprus, where human rights are coming under sustained attack.”  

People were on the ground, spitting blood, unable to breathe
Protester at 13 February demonstation

Meanwhile, civil society in the country has also come under attack, with the de-registration and threatened dissolution of KISA, an anti-racism organization that has been supporting refugees and migrants for over 20 years. On 3 March, a Court hearing will rule on the organization’s appeal against the de-registration decision.  

“People were on the ground, spitting blood, unable to breathe” 

An anti-corruption protest took place in Nicosia on 13 February. Amnesty International interviewed a number of protesters, who said that all those who were present wore masks and adhered to physical distancing regulations.  

Interviewees said there was a heavy police presence, and that police “kettled” them and warned that the protest would be dispersed in 15 minutes. Just 10 minutes later, the police attacked the protesters who tried to move to a side street with chemical irritants, stun grenades, batons and a water cannon. 

“We were surrounded by police and people were asking them to let us pass. At that point they started the beatings with batons, using batons on the head, and we were scared,” protester Anastasia Demetriadou, told Amnesty International.

“What was imprinted in my memory was the picture of a young girl – around 6 years old — who was held tight by her father. The police were throwing stun grenades among the crowd. There were people on the ground, spitting blood, unable to breathe.” 

Anastasia was severely injured in her left eye towards the end of the demonstration. A police water cannon hit her with a volley of water while she was gesturing in protest at the police’s conduct.  

Authorities in Cyprus introduced a blanket ban on all protests via a Ministerial Decree in June 2020, citing the COVID-19 pandemic. Later decrees renewed the ban until the end of February.  

While the authorities can legitimately restrict the right to peaceful assembly for the protection of public health, measures must be only imposed to an extent which is necessary and proportionate. They must also be assessed on a case-by-case basis.  The blanket ban on protests  is disproportionate and therefore unlawful. 

Ministers should use this the opportunity to announce they are lifting the disproportionate blanket ban on assemblies and reverse the deteriorating human rights situation in Cyprus
Kondylia Gogou, Amnesty International

This disregard for human rights is part of a wider pattern in Cyprus, which tightened asylum and migration policies during the year and is now also threatening freedom of association with the proposed dissolution of KISA.

“Ministers should use this the opportunity to announce they are lifting the disproportionate blanket ban on assemblies and reverse the deteriorating human rights situation in Cyprus. The rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly must be urgently restored.” said Kondylia Gogou. 

“Cypriot authorities must also urgently ensure that human rights violations committed by Cyprus police during the 13 February demonstration are promptly, thoroughly and impartially investigated.” 

BACKGROUND

A hearing expected on 3 March  will rule on KISA’s appeal against the decision by the Ministry of Interior to deregister the association for allegedly failing to comply with new administrative requirements introduced by a legislative change in August 2020. The decision to de-register is a disproportionate interference with the right to freedom of association and raises serious concerns for civil society in Cyprus.

KISA’s staff and volunteers fulfil a crucial role in the defence and promotion of human rights in Cyprus, providing vital support to migrants and refugees.

See Amnesty's report on Cyprus tightening migration policies is https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur01/2511/2020/en/

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact: Stefan Simanowitz, stefan.simanowitz@amnesty.org