By George Psyllides
Age criteria that made possible the early release from jail with presidential pardon of a child molester and others with similar offences was drafted by the justice ministry and conveyed to the attorney-general a few days after President Nicos Anastasiades’ re-election early in 2018, the Cyprus Mail has learned.
The government however, argues that no criteria existed under previous governments and a lot of sex offenders had been released indiscriminately in the past. However, the current criteria only excludes from early release, those convicts who had committed sexual offences against minors up to the age of 13. If the victim was older but still a minor, the convict was not excluded from early release.
The government has been under heavy fire for the past couple of days following the early release of a child molester who had benefitted from a general presidential pardon granted by President Nicos Anastasiades after his re-election in February this year.
The man was released on Sunday and he returned home to the same neighbourhood as his victim, now an adult, who was not however informed of his release.
He had been sentenced to three years in jail and was due to be released on March 29, 2019.
Main opposition Akel MP Irini Charalambidou had accused the government of setting age criteria to enable the release of a prominent individual who had been jailed for sexually abusing a child.
She said the problem was not the 2014 law, which includes severe custodial penalties for such crimes, but the long-established practice of presidential pardons that commute the sentences of child molesters by one-quarter.
“In January 2018, the prison governor was clear that people jailed for life or committed crimes against minors were not granted a presidential pardon,” Charalambidou said on her Facebook page.
“In the meantime, age criteria have emerged as a deus ex machina so that certain people are released from prison,” she said. “It’s as if a child that is abused or raped when 14 suffers less, so leniency must be showed through presidential pardon, to the criminal who hurt them.”
Responding to Charalambidou, Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou issued a statement on Thursday afternoon saying that the criteria was introduced during the current administration’s term for the first time after identifying the weaknesses of the existing system.
He added that before the criteria, when the Akel-backed Demetris Christofias administration took office in 2008, 22 people who had been convicted for sexual offences against minors of all ages had also been released early, among others.
“In 2018, on the basis of the defined criteria, apart from lifers, also excluded were those convicted for sexual offences against minors up to 13-years-old, or against minors up to the third degree of kinship.”
“Pardon was granted based on the charges and not based on specific individuals included on the list, which, apart from the convict in question, included others with the same offence,” the minister said.
The minister said the presidential pardon was granted with the agreement of the attorney-general to a list of convicts drafted on the basis of the criteria (by the prison administration) and submitted to the attorney-general, as part of the established practice applied since 1960, upon the assumption of office by the new president.
The minister however, did not specify when or who drafted the criteria and why it had been decided to set 13 years of age as the ceiling.
A source told the Cyprus Mail that the criteria was drafted by the justice ministry and conveyed to the attorney-general a few days after Anastasiades’ re-election last February. The source said the criteria was not only specific to child molesters but it also included other offences.
Earlier on Thursday, the head of a child watchdog was tasked with drafting stricter criteria relating to the release of convicted child molesters from prison.
The decision came after Anastasiades had to issue a statement apologising following the public outcry, which greeted the news that the state had pardoned the man.
The case was made public by Anastasia Papadopoulou, the head of the council for the implementation of the national strategy to fight sexual abuse and exploitation of children and child pornography, who met Anastasiades on Thursday to discuss the criteria that should govern presidential pardons given upon their election to office.
According to a written statement issued by deputy government spokeswoman, Klelia Vassiliou, the president asked Papadopoulou to draft comprehensive proposals regarding the criteria that should be put in place to preclude certain categories of offenders from receiving the general pardon but also a comprehensive policy to support the victims of sexually-related crimes, irrespective of age.