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Council of Europe concerned over central prisons
THE COUNCIL of Europe’s anti-torture committee today releases a report criticising the continued ill-treatment of those held by police in Cyprus and prison overcrowding.
Persons held in police establishments in Cyprus continue to run a “serious risk” of ill-treatment, according to a just-released report by the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT).
The report, based on visits to detention centres in Cyprus by a CPT delegation in 2008, notes insufficient progress since its previous visit in 2004. It calls on Cypriot authorities to ensure “practical professional training” for police and that “judicial authorities” be “sensitised to their obligations to take appropriate action in cases of ill-treatment”.
The report also criticises overcrowding at Nicosia Central Prisons and the lack of sufficient health-care for inmates at the establishment.
In its report on the visit in 2004, the CPT had pointed out “rampant overcrowding” at Nicosia Central Prisons. But since then, the “situation has further deteriorated”, said the latest report compiled four years ago.
The CPT will release the 2008 report and the Cypriot government’s response, providing details on measures being taken to address the issues raised in the report, today.
The Council of Europe is an intergovernmental institution meaning it works with member states to get “broad access” to prisons and detention centres, some would argue more than any other supervisory authority.
A trade-off in getting such close access is the inability of the CPT to make public its report until the member state investigated gives its approval. This usually takes between 12 and 18 months after a CPT delegation visit. In the case of Cyprus, it took four years to secure approval, making the contents of the report somewhat outdated.
In any case, the CPT plans to carry out its next visit to Cyprus next year.
In the 2008 report, the delegation noted that material conditions of detention centres had improved since 2004 though serious concerns remain in terms of overcrowding, inadequate access to natural light and ventilation, as well as food quality and quantity.
At the time of the visit, the official capacity of Nicosia prison was 340, while the correctional facility was housing 520 inmates.
In the first quarter of this year, this figure had soared to 700 inmates. Last March, cabinet approved a proposal by the Justice Ministry to build a new central prison to address overcrowding in a public-private partnership (PPP).
The project has now been put on the shelf after the draft memorandum agreed with the troika for an international bailout excluded Cyprus taking on any PPP project without first setting out the legal and institutional PPP framework.
The 2008 report also recorded serious concerns about continued ill-treatment by police, with the CPT delegation receiving “many allegations of ill-treatment of persons deprived of their liberty by the police”.
“In the light of all the information at the CPT’s disposal, the Committee can only conclude that persons held in police establishments in Cyprus continue to run a serious risk of ill-treatment,” it said.
Despite efforts to safeguard against rights’ violations, “the Cypriot authorities must be resolute in eradicating ill-treatment by the police”.
The report called on the Justice Minister to repeatedly impress upon all police officers that ill-treatment will not be tolerated and that perpetrators will be severely sanctioned.
One graphic example is given of a case in 2007 when a person alleged that Drugs Squad officers had pistol whipped his face, kicked, punched and hit him and threatened him with rape until he agreed to sign a confession.
His confession was eventually invalidated in court as it was found not to have been made voluntarily.
The report strongly advised the authorities to combat “impunity” – highlighting the need for the training of police and “sensitising” the judicial authorities to the problem of continued ill-treatment.
The report also highlights the inadequate provision of legal aid for people who cannot pay for such counsel and a lack of access to lawyers for minors.
The Committee also calls for the abolition of a law that inhibits access to medical aid.