By Stefanos Evripidou
A DELEGATION of the Council of Europe’s anti-torture committee has concluded a visit to the island, following inspections of a number of detention centres, including the newly-built Menoyia detention centre where allegations of human rights violations have been levelled against the authorities.
The Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) carried out its sixth visit to Cyprus from September 23 to October 1, 2013. The last visit was in 2008, after which the CTP highlighted a series of human rights shortcomings of the Cypriot authorities.
During the visit, the CPT’s delegation examined the treatment of persons detained by the police (including immigration detainees) and the effectiveness of the formal safeguards against ill-treatment which are available to such persons.
It visited Menoyia detention centre, opened in February this year to hold illegal immigrants until their deportation, and reviewed developments at Nicosia central prisons and Athalassa psychiatric hospital, as well as at the Nea Eleousa institution for persons with severe mental retardation.
The visit to Menoyia on September 27 was not without incident. According to migrant support group KISA, the authorities tried to “fool” the CTP by arranging to remove from Menoyia five migrant detainees- whose ongoing detention could become the subject of criticism- on the day of the scheduled visit of the anti-torture committee.
The NGO released a statement saying three migrants from Iran, Lebanon and Afghanistan who have been detained for over a year already, an unaccompanied minor from Cameroon and an asylum seeker whose case is still pending at the Refugee Reviewing Authority were all removed from the holding facility wearing handcuffs.
According to KISA, two detainees were transferred to hospital and allegedly forced to undergo check-ups after police reported they were suffering chest pains, despite the men claiming the contrary. Another two were taken to various government bodies for so-called interviews where they were asked “random” questions while the whereabouts of the minor remains unknown.
However, the following day, on September 28, the CPT performed a surprise visit to Menoyia, where they located the four detainees who complained about their treatment the previous day.
KISA condemned the attempt of the police to “deceive” the CPT as well as the “collusion” of the doctors and state authorities who collaborated with the police to keep the five away from the detention centre on the day of the visit.
In a separate incident in August this year, KISA called for the release of a Sri Lankan man from Menoyia who has lived, worked and raised his children in Cyprus with his wife for the past 20 years but who was detained for allegedly living on the island illegally.
The migrant support group said the man was arrested on July 20 and taken to Menoyia where he remains to this day, awaiting deportation, despite an Ombudswoman’s report issued on July 31 calling for his immediate release.
KISA said the couple have been living and working legally in Cyprus continuously since 1993. The family has two children. Their eldest daughter was six years old when they first came and the youngest was born in Cyprus in 2002. Both have attended schools here while the youngest, who has never visited Sri Lanka, speaks, writes and reads Greek as her mother tongue.
Also, in July, 2013, two police officers and a 29-year-old Syrian were injured at Menoyia detention centre.
The police claimed the 29-year-old assaulted the two officers while migrant support group KISA said the two held down the Syrian man while a third officer beat him.
KISA also reported other incidents of alleged abuse in Menoyia. Earlier this year, inmates complained of being banned from using mobile phones and some claimed they were beaten and sprayed by police, which authorities have denied.
The government has since activated a complaints committee to handle complaints of human rights violations at the centre.
During its latest visit, the CPT delegation also visited: holding facilities for immigration detainees at Larnaca airport; inpatient unit for adolescents with psychiatric-psychosocial problems at Makarios Hospital in Nicosia; an institution for teenagers in Latsia; and the holding cells of police stations in Ayia Napa, Aradippou, Larnaca, Limassol, Yermasoyia, Ayios Dometios, Lakatamia, Omorfita, and Pera Chorio-Nisou.
The delegation held consultations with Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou, as well as with senior officials from the ministries of health, interior, justice and labour, Attorney-general Costas Clerides, head of the police complaints authority Andreas Spyridakis and members of the mental health supervisory committee. Discussions were also held with representatives from the Ombudswoman’s office and members of civil society.
At the end of the visit, the nine-member delegation presented its preliminary findings to the Cypriot authorities.
The last visit of the CPT to Cyprus was in 2008. It took four years for the Cypriot government to give approval for the publication of the CPT’s findings.
In the 2008 report, published on June 12, 2012, the CPT expressed concern about the risk of ill-treatment by the police, both at the time of apprehension and during the subsequent period of custody and questioning. The report also highlighted the need to tackle the problem of overcrowding at Nicosia central prisons and to ensure a satisfactory level of health-care provision for inmates at the establishment.
Last month, the government announced that prisoners at the central prisons would soon have round-the-clock healthcare, a pledge made by the previous government to the CTP in 2008.
Nicolaou made the announcement following a number of suicides at the prison.