People are more tolerant?C -7-Cyprus (OA) 91-12 (E)  

People are more tolerant?
Alexander Modinos on the situation in Cyprus

Published in Die Andere Welt,
December 1991

DAW: Alexander Modinos, you are from Cyprus and last year (1990) applied to the Council of Europe, to the Human Rights Commission, making a case against the Government of Cyprus that you were being denied your rights as a citizen of that Republic. What was the outcome?
A.M: The hearing took place on 6th December1990 and the Commission unanimously decided that my application was accepted.

DAW: Then you had some problems with an Archbishop, I think?
A. M.: As a result of the decision there was a lot of publicity. The Attorney-General admitted that our antiquated 1885 Victorian anti-homosexual laws are anti-constitutional, and contrary to the European Convention. The Archbishop opposed any abolition of the existing anti-homosexual legislation. As a result of the decision of the Human Rights Commission he came out openly on radio at Christmas time openly opposing any change.

DAW: What did he threaten?
A. M.: He threatened to ex-communicate known homosexuals and withhold their Christian rights as well as not give them a burial.

DAW: How have the Cyprus authorities reacted since the Human Rights Commission decision?
A. M.: They have done nothing. They have not done anything at all to abolish or change the legislation, but neither did the Archbishop keep his word. He, so far, has also done nothing. I have not been ex-communicated.

DAW: Can you tell me something about life for homosexuals in Cyprus? -- Most of our readers will have little idea ....
A. M.: The legislation considers homosexual relations between adult males a criminal offence. So we are liable to prosecution. The church which is powerful considers homosexual practices the gravest of sins and society in Cyprus stigmatises it. So obviously in a small place where everybody knows everybody else homosexuals hide their identity. They lead a double life. For the great majority of the men they are 'underground" -- in secret . I believe this is a great problem. In the effort to hide their homosexual identity people have many and unknown partners ... In a place where homosexuality is not accepted people cannot ask for help. They are forced to hide so the problem becomes enormous when you do face it.

DAW: Are there cruising areas in Cyprus?
A. M.: Yes -- in the parks, and at night on the beaches. It is very dangerous because the police know about the places too and continuously harass homosexual men. They take them to the police station and...

DAW: Has anyone been imprisoned for a longer time recently?
A. M.: No not a long sentence. Recently we had a Swiss tourist who was sentenced to a months imprisonment, but the President and the Swiss Embassy intervened and he was released within a week.

DAW: But it is important that tourists know they risk this a few days in prison.
A. M.: Probably after the decision of the Human Rights Commission it would not have happened had he taken someone to his hotel room, but he admitted his 'guilt". He did not even have sex with anyone, but met someone who happened to be a policeman... I'm not sure, but maybe it was a provocation ...

DAW: How do you view the future?
A. M.: It will take a long time to change the legislation, but we are able to give talks, appear on the radio, discuss the subject more openly than before. The majority of the Cyprus people -- I am surprised at this -- have in the last 3 years been very kind to me I am an open homosexual. So I believe society in Cyprus is ready for the change. Homosexual men will not be convinced so easily because they feel ashamed, embarrassed, and frightened.

DAW: Is it similar in the Turkish part?
A. M.: Nearly 40% of Cyprus' land is occupied by Turkey and we are not free to move from the Greek south to the Turkish-occupied north. Nor are the Turks allowed to come to the south. No, I'm talking about he whole island - with a population of less than 700,000 people, Greeks and Turks. Armenians and other minorities. The legislation is the same. The leaders of both religions, the Greek Orthodox and the Muslim, both condemn homosexuality, so it's the same society and the same legislation. Cyprus is still recognised by all nations as a united single nation. I mean the whole island.

DAW: We know that in Istanbul people are arrested and beaten up. Do you know of anything similar in the north of the island?
A. M.: The legislation, per se, does not forbid me to be homosexual, but I become a criminal from the moment I admit to sodomy. Well, I have admitted that I have practised and intend to practise that. To prove that the law is unconstitutional - because I have a right to practise my sexuality - in private. I am sure if the Turkish Cypriots - or if I went there and proclaimed publicly I was homosexual they would not harass me just because of that. It is quite another matter for Turks there who dare not form a gay movement. We have one movement in Cyprus. We do not have members from the occupied part because they are not free to come. We have tried to communicate for the last 17 years -- and quite a lot of the European members of the UN Force - like Denmark, Britain and other countries -- are gay and have a good time both in the south and in the north. Unfortunately they are too frightened to even as much as take a message -- not to talk of organising a part of the Gay movement of Cyprus in the north.

DAW: Is it possible to have an openly gay centre in Cyprus ?
A. M.: We HAVE an openly gay centre in Cyprus ! We have meetings every Wednesday evening -- during the Winter and Spring. We have a gay line which operates from 7.30 pm to 7.30 am. The number is Nicosia 02 44 33 46. Last year we celebrated in Nicosia thirty years since the founding of the gay movement in Cyprus -- publicly -- with about 110 people present, and we have a bit of capital now. Last January we had 254 people at another party in Limassol and collected 500 pounds. You see more people from Nicosia could come to a public place in Limassol than in Nicosia ...
We are the only organisation in the island which carries out safe sex education --. for men gays and bisexuals as well as men who have sex with other men but consider themselves neither. We have a support group for people who are alone, or to the hospital if they come to us. If people come to Nicosia for treatment we can put two people up. It was used for people who were thrown out, but Cyprus is small and the families do not usually throw out people who are HIV or have AIDS now -- as they did 2 or 3 years ago. People are more tolerant now.

DAW: Thank you for this interview.

Interviewer: Colin de la Motte-Sherman in Prague

Since 1991, the following events in relation to Cyprus are worth recalling:

(I) May 1998
"They have abolished one law to make another one much worse," said Alecos Modinos, the gay man whose case convinced the European Court of Human Rights in 1993 to order Cyprus to decriminalize homosexual acts between consenting adults, about the law the nation's parliament finally passed May 21, 1998, just eight days before a deadline set by the Council of Europe before it would impose sanctions. Modinos' concerns are shared by AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL.

The problems stem from amendments - made in a two-hour closed-door discussion in parliament before the vote was taken - designed to appease the Orthodox Church of Cyprus by showing that the government was not "encouraging" homosexuality. One problem is vague language: "unnatural licentiousness" apparently used as a synonym for homosexuality, "indecent proposals" and "advertising," as in personal ads for gay relationships.
Jail terms prescribed for "indecent proposals" and "advertising" are said to be greater than those for comparable heterosexual acts. Modinos says that the law now specifically targets men for violations which previously applied to any person. A "Cyprus Mail" editorial said, "The amendments to the gay sex bill are ridiculous, petulant and spiteful."

An AMNESTY statement read, "We believe the provisions must either be deleted or amended. We do, however, consider it likely that the Cypriot authorities will give the correct interpretation to the law to ensure it does not violate citizens' guaranteed rights under the constitution. We believe that discrimination against homosexuals continues because the sentences provided for under the new law are not analogous with those stipulated for the same crimes committed by heterosexuals. 'Unnatural licentiousness,' which is referred to many times in the new law, implies condemnation of the homosexual act."

(II) July 2000
Under the terms of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe is empowered to ensure that actions taken by governments and parliaments in response to a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights do indeed fully rectify the human rights violations identified in the judgment. The Committee of Ministers was not satisfied that the 1998 legislation complied with the judgment, and the latest legislation is the outcome of discussions between the Committee of Ministers and the Cyprus Government.

The legislation passed by the Cyprus Parliament was at first thought to have "equalised the male age of consent (albeit by raising the age of consent for heterosexual males from 16 to 18, while setting that for women at 16)".

Later it became clear that no change had been made in the age of consent provisions.


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