A Council of Europe anti-torture report published on Thursday raises concerns over allegations of police abuse, prison overcrowding and poor conditions in psychiatric and social care establishments in Cyprus.
The report is based on a visit to Cyprus last year by a CPT (Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment) delegation, which logged credible allegations of ill-treatment of detained persons, including juveniles, by police officers – notably in Limassol and Paphos central police stations. Alleged ill-treatment – especially against foreign nationals – included slaps, punches and kicks to the head and to other parts of the body.
Allegations of physical, verbal and racist abuse of immigration detainees by staff at Menoyia Detention Centre were also reported, as were allegations of ill-treatment of detainees being escorted to the airport by immigration police officers.
The committee called on Cypriot authorities to improve its system of investigations into allegations of ill-treatment. It also called for a new legal framework to protect whistle blowers who disclose information on such abuses.
In their response, the Cypriot authorities reaffirmed ‘zero tolerance’ towards police ill-treatment and provided a range of measures that have been taken to address this problem, including reinforcing police training.
Positive efforts to improve detention conditions are undermined by persistent overcrowding in some locations, including Nicosia central prisons, where the CPT delegation received several allegations of staff physically abusing prisoners and heard numerous allegations of staff verbally abusing inmates and threatening them with reprisals for making complaints.
The report included recommendations to stop inter-prisoner violence, promote staff professionalism, improve the treatment of foreign prisoners and strengthen procedural safeguards within the disciplinary system. In their response, the authorities refer to new policies and procedures to prevent ill-treatment, abuse of power and threats of reprisals and to prevent inter-prisoner violence.
The committee expressed dismay at substantially below standard material conditions at Athalassa psychiatric hospital. It criticised a lack of therapeutic, occupational and rehabilitative activities on offer and the poor regulation of use of means of restraint. It also recommends legislative amendments to strengthen the safeguards offered to psychiatric patients.
As regards social care homes, the CPT welcomed on-going “de-institutionalisation” efforts but criticised the inadequate legislative framework governing the operation of such homes, including the involuntary placement and stay of residents. The CPT expressed concern as well over poor living conditions and poor personal hygiene for residents at the Ariadni Home.
In their reply, the Cypriot authorities evoked the renovation of several wards at Athalassa psychiatric hospital and the establishment of two committees to consider revising the law on psychiatric care and to develop a new protocol for the hospital in light of the CPT recommendations. The authorities acknowledged the poor situation found at Ariadni Home and state that action is being taken to improve living conditions there.