The LGBT community in northern Cyprus deserves the same rights has fellow Europeans but promises of change have not been followed up with action, writes a Conservative MEP
In October last year, I wrote an article for PublicServiceEurope.com
about how the north part of Cyprus was the last place in Europe where it was still illegal to be gay. In spite of this terrible anachronism, the tone of the piece was optimistic because, on a recent visit to Cyprus, I had been able to secure a guarantee from Turkish Cypriot leader Dr Dervis Eroglu that he would sign a repeal of the ban into law.
Since then, I have been keeping the pressure on Dr Eroglu to keep his promise as well as to ensure that any new law includes a provision to protect children from sexual abuse. In December I received a letter from the Turkish Cypriot leader in which he told me that a draft proposal for the repeal of the law had been submitted to the general assembly and that "the draft proposal concerned should be adopted and section 171 should be abolished without delay". I had regarded these assurances as a small victory with the hope that all Cypriot adults would soon be able to engage in consensual sex – be it with the same or different gender.
Unfortunately news reached me today that two more men were arrested in the north of Cyprus on charges of homosexuality. The men, who were inmates in the Central Prison in Nicosia, were accused of the crime of "sexual intercourse against the order of nature". They are being held in a punishment cell and I have been informed by the Nicosia-based Initiative Against Homophobia that the organisation's lawyers have been denied access to the prisoners. This is the third time in the past eight months that arrests have been made based on Section 171 of the penal code.
While Dr Eroglu may have twice promised me he would repeal the ban on homosexuality, I now feel that he needs to back up these words with deeds. I have called for an immediate moratorium on arrests under Section 171 and the men arrested last month must have the charges dismissed without delay. The draft legislation submitted by the Communal Democratic Party must be fast-tracked through the assembly and Dr Eroglu must keep his promise to sign the repeal into law.
In addition to the increasing frequency of arrests, I am also concerned about the manner in which the accused were described in Kibris
, the leading Turkish-language newspaper in Cyprus. The newspaper released the names and even pictures of the two men concerned and reported the arrest in an extremely derogatory tone. It is important not only to change the laws in the north part of Cyprus, but also to change attitudes. I am beginning to worry that the Turkish-language media may provoke a negative reaction to gays which may in turn cause a delay in the repeal of the law. The LGBT community in the north part of Cyprus deserve the same human rights as their fellow Europeans.Marina Yannakoudakis is Conservative MEP for London and a member of the European Parliament's high-level contact group for relations with the Turkish Cypriot community