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Northern Cyprus faces legal challenge to gay ban

A legal challenge has been lodged at the European Court of Human Rights to repeal laws criminalising homosexuality in Northern Cyprus
Initiative Against Homophobia protest in Northern Cyprus.

Campaigners have launched a legal challenge at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

North Cyprus still fully enforces homophobic British Colonial Laws, where Articles 171 and 173 punishes 'unnatural sex' (eg homosexuality) with five years jail and gives three years imprisonment for attempts to commit such acts.

Since 1974 the island has been effectively divided. The Republic of Cyprus (the south, which is mostly Greek) was required following a court ruling by the ECtHR in 1993 to repeal the laws (the Modinos v Cyprus case), finally being forced to do so by Council of Europe in 1998 under the threat of expulsion and cancellation of its European Union accession treaty.

However in North Cyprus, ruled by the unrecognised Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) these laws are continually being enforced.

On 29 January this year two men were sentenced for consensual gay sex. This is despite assurances given in 2011 by the leader of the TRNC, Dervi? Ero?lu, that the law will be repealed, following international outcry over the sentencing and arrest of five men for homosexuality (in two separate cases); including against the former Finance Minister of the Republic of Cyprus which was widely covered by the local media in a homophobic manner.

The UK based Human Dignity Trust (HDT), in collaboration with a local group called Homofobiye Kar?? ?nisiyatif or Initiative Against Homophobia (IAH), have lodged a case to repeal these laws in the ECtHR against Turkey, the country responsible for protecting and promoting human rights in the TRNC as it is not recongised as a country by the European Union.

The challenge, brought anonymously by the plaintiff because of fears he will be prosecuted, asserts that his private and family life are violated by the existence of these laws. He also argues that the discrimination he suffers amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment.

Commenting, human rights barrister and chief executive of the Human Dignity Trust Jonathan Cooper said: 'The fact that homosexual relations remain criminalised in Northern Cyprus is a violation of international law and the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.

'Criminalisation of identity puts people beyond protection of the law. This is not an issue of gay rights but one of upholding universal human rights. More than 80 legal systems across the globe continue to criminalise homosexuality – almost half the countries in the world.'

Speaking with Gay Star News Re?at ?aban of the IAH said the laws 'obviously have a big effect [In Northern Cyprus] on the lives of LGBT people'.

?aban stressed that that it inflicts emotional and psychological difficulties because 'you never know where the limit of "unnatural sex" would [be applied]'. Once arrested, ?aban explained, 'everyone would know it'.

According to ?aban the local media even 'publishes openly names and pictures of suspects' which in effects ostracises LGBT people, 'like as if it is a big crime to love someone.'

Legal sources suggest that Northern Cyprus may well now accelerate procedures to repeal the laws rather than be forced to by the courts. The TRNC and Turkey would wish to avoid a similar pressures to those that have brought against to the Republic of Cyprus.

Michael Cashman MEP, co-president of the LGBT Intergroup, in the European Parliament promised to keep up the pressure on the TRNC.

He said: 'The current criminal code wreaks lives, and Dervi? Ero?lu’s promise must be followed by steadfast action. I will personally go to Cyprus in order to meet him, other leaders and NGOs, and encourage repealing this outdated piece of legislation which has no place in Europe—or anywhere in the world.'

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