Priests, health professionals and other people carrying out conversion ‘therapies’ to LGBTI+ individuals will be faced with up to three years in jail according to a draft bill that aims to criminalise such pseudo practices.

MPs discussed the law proposal tabled by Akel MP Giorgos Koukoumas during Wednesday’s session of the House legal affairs committee.

The bill provides that any form of conversion ‘therapy’ that uses pharmaceutical, counselling, behavioural, psychiatric, psychotherapeutic and psychological interventions to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression should constitute a criminal offence.

This practice involves physical or psychological violence, blackmail, psychological coercion or even rape, Koukoumas said.

“We need…to protect people who are subjected to such degrading and mediaeval practices…LGBTI+ people are not ‘sick’ [persons] who need to be cured,” the Akel MP said, highlighting the importance of passing the bill.

Such practices are usually carried out on young people by health professionals, including mental health professionals, priests and alternative therapists. Those will be faced with up to two years imprisonment.

“The penalty is increased to three years when the victim is a minor or a person in a vulnerable situation,” Koukoumas said. These include people who have a disability or mental condition. Parents or guardians who force their dependent children into this practice will also be liable.

Although the World Health Organisation declassified homosexuality as a pathology or disease in 1990 and transsexuality in 2019, conversion therapies are based on the notion that LGBTI+ people are morally, spiritually and biologically inferior or problematic individuals who need to be treated.

Several EU member states, such as Malta, Germany, France and more recently Greece, have banned this pseudo treatment while other have proposed its ban.

In Cyprus, discussions for the possible ban started in February and received a positive response by the health ministry, doctors and the national bioethics committee that communicated certain clarifications.

With a letter to parliament, the health ministry and the Cyprus medical association explained that is in favour of criminalising the so-called conversion therapies. However, they noted that the bill should clarify that it does not include scientifically established clinical interventions by qualified mental health professionals aim to assess and treat pathologies included in the current official international classification manuals of mental disorders.

Hence, the bill should clarify that it does not include medical intervention for people with gender dysphoria which is developed by official scientific bodies.

In its own statement, the national bioethics committee said that the bill should also provide for parents or guardians who sent their children to other countries for such ‘treatments’.