Turkish Cypriot Human Rights Foundation Emine Erk: “The continued existence of the law was “a black mark on the human rights record” of the north. To my knowledge, we are the only place in Europe which criminalises homosexuality, not even in Turkey, so we can’t even use that as an excuse…“
Stefanos Evripidou, CYPRUS MAIL
October 15, 2011
FORMER finance minister and member of the Greek Cypriot negotiating team Michalis Sarris was remanded in custody yesterday by a Turkish Cypriot court in connection with alleged sexual offences.
According to police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos, police were informed that 65-year-old Sarris was detained by Turkish Cypriot police on Thursday night and remanded in custody for three days by a court in the occupied part of Nicosia yesterday.
Katsounotos told reporters that police were informed of the incident by the Greek Cypriot member of the bicommunal committee on crime.
Sources told the Cyprus Mail that the Turkish Cypriot authorities raided a house in north Nicosia late Thursday night, arresting three males: Sarris and two Turkish Cypriots, believed to be aged 17 and 30-something. The same sources said police in the north raided the house without a warrant, arresting the three males in connection with the alleged crime of committing an “unnatural act”.
Head of the Turkish Cypriot Human Rights Foundation Emine Erk said “unnatural act” was antiquated legal parlance for sodomy, a remnant of the old British colonial legal system implemented on the island during its colonisation.
The only legal age limit in the north applies to girls who have to be 16 and over to consent to sex, on the condition that it is not of an “unnatural” nature.
The alleged offence carries a maximum sentence of five years in jail, according to Erk.
She noted that the high-profile arrest of a former finance minister and World Bank employee in connection with an alleged offence that has been decriminalised throughout Europe may bring attention to the need to change the law in the north.
Until now, the Turkish Cypriot NGO, Initiative Against Homophobia, has almost single-handedly led the campaign to change the law, sending an amendment bill to the Turkish Cypriot authorities.
Erk said the continued existence of the law was “a black mark on the human rights record” of the north.
“To my knowledge, we are the only place in Europe which criminalises homosexuality, not even in Turkey, so we can’t even use that as an excuse,” she said.
The Cyprus Republic decriminalised homosexuality in 1998 five years after gay activist Alecos Modinos won his battle at the European Court of Human Rights but it took another two years to have deliberately offensive terms describing homosexual relations removed from the new legislation and then only under threat from Europe.
In 2002, parliament removed a further bone of contention, equalising the age of consent for heterosexuals and homosexuals to 17. Before that, heterosexual couples aged 16 and up were considered consenting adults while homosexuals had to wait until they were 18 to remain within the law.
Same-sex partners still have no legal rights in the Cyprus Republic while the debate on gay marriages has only just started to come out of the woodwork.
Regarding the continuation of the colonial offence in the north, Erk said the same law applies no matter what sex or age those involved are. In other words, whether the act in question is performed by consenting adults, same-sex or opposite, or is considered rape or abuse of a minor, the same charge applies.
“This whole issue has emphasised the need to take seriously our calls to revise the law from the old colonial format, making sodomy a criminal act. In our domestic laws we accept that the European Convention on Human Rights binds us, hence the way we’ve set up the Immoveable Property Commission,” said Erk.
According to the human rights lawyer, atavistic law is “not very commonly applied”, with few charges actually been pressed.
“It’s usually mixed up with something else. Usually police are trying to pressure someone involved on some other issue,” she said, adding that raiding a private residence was also “not very common”.
“I’ve been practicing for 30 years as a lawyer and I don’t remember anyone being jailed for this crime in recent history,” said Erk.
On Monday, Sarris will appear before a court in the north where the Turkish Cypriot authorities will either release him, charge him or seek a remand extension.
Questions that his legal representative will likely pose, said Erk, are: Was the crime committed and is there sufficient evidence of this?
If Turkish Cypriot police should pursue the case and it goes to trial, a further line of defence will be to question the validity of the crime itself since it violates the European Convention on Human Rights which the north has bound itself to.
Source: Cyprus Mail