Cyprus
Human rights defender acquitted as police accusations are found "not credible"
19.06.2012 Bookmark and Share

Doros Polycarpou, the Executive Director of the anti-racist and migrant rights organisation KISA, was acquitted after more than a year of criminal proceedings when the judge found accusations against him to be "not credible." Polycarpou had been accused of 'rioting' following racist attacks on participants of the 2010 Rainbow Festival, which KISA has been organising since 1998.

The Rainbow Festival: a strong message to the far-right in Cyprus

For 14 years, KISA has organised the annual Rainbow Festival, the largest multicultural event in Cyprus. Migrants, refugees, ethnic minorities and Cypriots come together to celebrate diversity and inclusion. The Festival is usually held in one of Cyprus's two largest cities: Nicosia and Limassol. [1]

Over the years, the Rainbow Festival has been attended by families, people of all origins, the elderly and the young, and has advocated the recognition of migrants as a fully-fledged component of Cypriot society. KISA is calling for dialogue between locals, minorities and migrants.

On 5 November 2010, KISA decided to hold the Festival in Larnaca to highlight objections to a march against "illegal" immigration organised by the far right Greek Resistance Movement and supported by the Pancyprian Anti-Occupation Movement and the Movement for the Salvation of Cyprus. The demonstration also targeted migrant rights organisations which they described as a "social abscess and the enemy's fifth column, funded by foreign centres" and the Cypriot state which "from its birth, (…) fights against the Hellenism of Cyprus in order to eliminate it."

In opposition to their chauvinistic and racist message, KISA presented the Rainbow Festival as a counter-event: "We unequivocally and categorically declare that migrants and refugees do not constitute a threat to our culture and identity, but are an equal and integral part of our society who make a considerable contribution to it." [2]

Clashes and widespread violence against Festival-goers

Racist violence in Cyprus often goes unreported although it constitutes a growing phenomenon [3] and is a matter of serious concern for minority groups, especially migrants and refugees, Cypriots [4], European human rights monitoring bodies [5] and NGOs. [6] The EU monitoring body on racism and xenophobia (Racism and Xenophobia European Network, RAXEN) lodged a complaint against the police and the Ministry of Justice following the mass arrest of third country nationals during a police raid in Nicosia city centre in 2009. [7] Despite this and numerous other attacks on migrants, [8] the legitimisation of violent far-right groups is underway, as the registration of ELAM (Ethniko Laiko Metopo, National Popular Front) as a legal political party in 2011 shows [9]. ELAM celebrated "the shift to nationalism" when Golden Dawn won 21 seats in the Greek parliament in May 2012 wearing black shirts and marching with Greek flags. [10]

Aware of the risk of violence, but keen on proposing an alternative event to the racist march, KISA sought and received assurances from local police that the far-right activists would not be allowed to approach the venue and stir up trouble. Despite this agreement, they were allowed to target the festival and shouted racist, Islamophobic and homophobic abuse at the peaceful participants, as is shown in video footage. [11] The ensuing violence resulted in one Turkish Cypriot being stabbed and a third country national being severely injured. The violence has been condemned across Europe. [12]

Following the clashes, police arrested seven people, all Festival-goers, including four Cypriots and two underage migrants. No far-right activists were arrested. Polycarpou lodged a complaint with the police against several persons including two who entered the Festival's venue and started throwing chairs at people, and a party leader for hate speech and threats of violence. Polycarpou also informed the police that he was pushed by a man, who was later identified as an undercover policeman.

KISA condemned, in a press release issued right after the clashes, "the participation of politicians on the racist and chauvinist march particularly a Member of the House of Representatives and a member of a local council, who appear to have had a leading role." [13] ELAM, which presents itself as being concerned about "the survival of the Greeks in Cyprus," is close to neo-nazi groups across Europe, such as Chrysi Avgi in Greece, Forza Nuova in Italy and the NPD in Germany, all of which are linked to on its blog.

In March, the police charged Doros Polykarpou with "rioting." The main witness in the case was the leader of the far-right organisation who initiated the march and attack on the Festival. Polycarpou faced three years imprisonment if found guilty.

International support against the criminalisation of human rights defenders

The charges brought against KISA's Executive Director were denounced as unfounded from the outset and concern was expressed to the Cypriot authorities by the UN High Commissioner for Human Right's office regarding their substance and the country's lack of respect for the freedom of assembly. [14] Amnesty International, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Front Line Defenders reported on the situation and expressed their concerns. Several international and European organisations expressed solidarity with Polycarpou, denounced the absence of an independent investigation, and set up a delegation to monitor proceedings. [15] Meetings with Cypriot officials, support from several organisations (UNITED, the European Network Against Poverty, the Institute of Race Relations, the Minority Rights Group), and some Members of the European Parliament (MEP's) calling for an independent investigation of the events and for the charges to be dropped, did not stop the prosecution. This led NGOs to believe that this trial was:

"[Y]et another hostile attempt undertaken to thwart KISA's actions in defence of migrants' rights which confirms the Cyprus authorities' failure to fully respect human rights and EU law." [16]

Indeed, since 2002, KISA has faced five criminal charges, all of which were eventually dropped. Since its creation, KISA has been at loggerheads with the Cypriot authorities as it has denounced the continuous violation of migrants' rights and lack of implementation of EU human rights obligations.

In its letter to the Cypriot authorities dated 22 July 2011, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern "regarding the charges brought against human rights defender Mr. Doros Polykarpou as a result of his peaceful participation in the Rainbow Festival and the impending trial. Further concern is expressed that the charges brought against him may be directly linked to his work in defence of human rights and in particular his work against xenophobia and racism in Cyprus." [emphasis added]

'Not credible'

On 5 June 2012, after more than a year of proceedings, the judge found the prosecution's witnesses, two police officers, to be "not credible" and ruled that Polycarpou was innocent. However, Cyprus law does not allow for compensation in a criminal case despite the financial and moral damage resulting from such unfounded accusations.

This landmark decision confirms that the accusations against Doros Polycarpou were unfounded and suggests that his trial aimed to undermine the reputation and the credibility of the NGO within the wider context of growing racism and the violation of migrant rights. Although the decision was welcomed by KISA's supporting organisations, the international delegation present at the verdict gave a press conference which emphasised that, as Cyprus is about to take up the EU Presidency and will be overseeing the finalising of the European Common Asylum System, "the authorities should use the occasion of Doros Polycarpou's acquittal to mark the beginning of a new cooperation between the Cyprus state and human rights defenders." [17]

More than a year after the events, no investigation has been conducted and no one has been arrested in connection to the serious crimes committed against the Turkish Cypriot participants and the third country national severely injured during the Festival. The trial against the far-right leader identified by Polycarpou is about to begin. It remains to be seen whether disciplinary procedures will be taken against the two police witness and the undercover officer at the Festival, who testified at the court.

Sources

[1] Pictures available on KISA's Facebook page
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.443087085716405.102932.435661239792323&type=3

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.443090922382688.102933.435661239792323&type=3

[2] KISA, Press Release, 3 November 2010 http://www.kisa.org.cy/_metacanvas/attach_handler23a2.pdf?attach_id=372&content_type=application/pdf&filename=Rainbow%202010_KISA_PressRelease_EN_031110.pdf

[3] Chowdhury and Kasimeris (2010) Racist Violence in Cyprus, ENAR and the Open Society Institute http://cms.horus.be/files/99935/MediaArchive/Racist%20Violence%20Cyprus%20-%20online.pdf

[4] Anti-discrimination body of the Republic of Cyprus (2010) Annual Report http://www.ombudsman.gov.cy/Ombudsman/ombudsman.nsf/All/56E603E0B5A65B53C22579500031BC50/$file/%CE%95%CF%84%CE%B7%CF%83%CE%B9%CE%B1%20%CE%95%CE%BA%CE%B8%CE%B5%CF%83%CE%B7%20%CE%91%CE%9A%CE%94%20-2010%20ENGL.pdf?OpenElement

http://www.kisa.org.cy/_metacanvas/attach_handlera0cc.pdf?attach_id=297&content_type=application/pdf&filename=Press%20Release_211209EN.pdf

[5] European Commission on Racism and Intolerance (2011) ECRI report on Cyprus http://www.coe.int/t/dghl/monitoring/ecri/country-by-country/cyprus/CYP-CbC-IV-2011-020-ENG.pdf

[6] ENAR Shadow Report on Cyprus 2009-2010 (2010) http://cms.horus.be/files/99935/MediaArchive/publications/Cyprus.pdf

[7] Ibid at 5, p.41

[8] 'We'll come at night and find you, traitor', December 2009, Cyprus Mail http://www.cyprus-mail.com/cyprus/we-ll-come-night-and-find-you-traitor/20091229
'Nigerian beaten by racist mob', July 2010, Cyprus Mail http://polislife.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=160600:nigerian-beaten-by-racist-mob&catid=18:cyprus-news-cyprus-mail&Itemid=61

[9] 'New Political Parties on Parliamentary Ballot', March 2011, Cyprus News Report http://www.cyprusnewsreport.com/?q=node/4042

[10] 'ELAM seeks to echo Golden Dawn's success: Will Greek vote boost nationalism here?', May 2012, Cyprus Mail http://www.cyprus-mail.com/cyprus/elam-seeks-echo-golden-dawn-s-success-will-greek-vote-boost-nationalism-here/20120513

[11]
Video footage: http://www.kisa.org.cy/EN/news/662.html
'Cyprus racism in the spotlight', James Mackay, 13 March 2012, Cyprus Mail http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/mar/13/cyprus-political-racism-doros-polycarpou

[12] ENAR & PICUM, Joint Statement: 'Racist attacks in Cyprus: national authorities must put a stop to the criminalization of undocumented migrants and their supporters', 16 November 2010 http://picum.org/picum.org/uploads/file_/Joint%20Statement%20on%20Cyprus.pdf

[13] KISA, Press Release, 6 November 2010 http://www.kisa.org.cy/_metacanvas/attach_handler239e.pdf?attach_id=377&content_type=application/pdf&filename=KISA_PressRelease_Attack_on_Rainbow%202010_EN_061110.pdf

[14] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Request to the Republic of Cyprus, REFERENCE: AL G/SO 214 (67-17) G/SO 214 (107-9) Assembly & Association (2010-1) CYP 1/2011 https://spdb.ohchr.org/hrdb/19th/AL_Cyprus_20.07.2011_%281.2011%29.pdf

[15] The coalition is made of: the European Association for the defence of Human Rights (AEDH), the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, the European Network Against Racism (ENAR), Fahamu Refugee Legal Aid Programme, Front Line Defenders, Migreurop, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM)

First trial observation mission, 22 July 2011: 'Four International NGOs Urge Cypriot Authorities to Drop Charges against Human Rights Defender Doros Polykarpou' http://picum.org/picum.org/uploads/file_/press%20release%20second%20mission%20EN.pdf

Second trial observation mission, 14 December 2011, 'As Doros Polycarpou's prosecution continues, international attention and support intensify' http://picum.org/picum.org/uploads/file_/press%20release%20second%20mission%20EN.pdf

[16] Joint Statement: Harassment of Human Rights Defenders and breach of migrants' rights in Cyprus must stop
http://picum.org/picum.org/uploads/file_/Join%20Statement.pdf

[17] Third trial observation mission, 5 June 2012: 'False accusation confirmed, Judge drops all charges against Human Rights Defenders Polycarpou' http://www.migreurop.org/article2138.html?lang=fr


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