US Gives Positive Report On Religious Freedoms

By Jean Christou

Cyprus Mail
23 Sept 08

State doubles 2007 budget on holy sites

THE STATE spent â~B¬348,000 on conserving 17 mosques in the
government-controlled areas in 2007 and set aside almost double that
in the 2008 budget, according to the US State Department’s latest
report on religious freedom.

The report said that since crossings opened in 2003, Turkish Cypriots
enjoyed "relatively easy" access to their places of worship in the
south of the island while Greek Cypriots reported "better access"
to Orthodox sites in the north.

According to the report, 94.8 per cent of people living in the south
are Greek Orthodox, while 1.5 per cent were Roman Catholic, 1.0 per
cent Protestant, 0.6 per cent Muslim, 0.5 per cent Maronite Catholic,
0.3 per cent Armenian Orthodox, and 1.3 per cent atheist, ‘other,’
or ‘not stated’.

No serious complaints were recorded on religious discrimination during
the year but some religious organisations said they had difficulties
in registering as non-profit organisations. The report mentions
anti-Jewish sentiment separately from other religious discrimination
but said there were no recorded cases in Cyprus during the year.

"There were few reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on
religious affiliation, belief, or practice, and prominent societal
leaders took posit ive steps to promote religious freedom," said
the report.

"Although Turkish Cypriots occasionally reported that unused mosques
in the government-controlled area have been vandalised, the Government
of Cyprus routinely maintains and repairs them," it added.

It said Orthodox and Maronites were prohibited from visiting religious
sites located in military zones in the north but that in 2007, the
Turkish Cypriot side completed the restoration of five Orthodox
churches. It did not say whether the buildings were restored as
Orthodox churches or put to new use after renovation.

"Greek Cypriots continued to report that vandals damaged vacant
Greek Orthodox churches and removed religious icons in the area
administered by Turkish Cypriots; there were no reported law
enforcement investigations of these incidents," said the report.

"According to Turkish Cypriot leaders, in response to complaints of
vandalism, some locations were fenced for their protection," it says.

Referring to the general situation in the north as regards religious
freedom, the report said religious discrimination was negligible.

Though largely secular, some 98 per cent of the population in the
north listed themselves as being Sunni Muslim.

"Most non-Muslims residing in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots
are foreigners from Western Europe who are generally members of the
Roman Catholic or Anglican Churches," said the report.

"A Turkish-speaking Protestant congregation continued to claim
mistreatment at the hands of Turkish Cypriot authorities and
some members of the public, allegedly over fears that members were
proselytising, and they also complained they were unable to register as
an ‘association’ and thus could not establish a trust fund, construct
a place of worship, or establish a cemetery for congregants."

–Boundary_(ID_w2PNEwZYB+qYVtm FfKPOMA)–