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Cyprus Internet Directory [ Torture report puts police in the spotlight ]

Torture report puts police in the spotlight

THE COUNCIL of Europe has warned Cyprus it needs to do more to stamp out ill-treatment of detainees in police custody after a visit by a special committee on torture received many “complaints of ill-treatment” in police custody, some of which “was of such a severity that it could be considered as amounting to torture”.

The visit by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) took place in December 2004, and its report was approved by the Council of Europe in July 2005. It was released today, after the Cyprus government finally gave its green light for the findings to be published.

Publication of the report is always at the request of the country involved, and usually comes before the next review, scheduled every four years.

In its response to the report, dated April 2006, the government says many of the recommendations have been, or are in the process of being, adopted.

The report devoted much of its attention to conditions in police custody, saying the CPT delegation had received many complaints of ill-treatment

“The forms of ill-treatment alleged consisted in the main of slaps, kicks and punches to the head and body, including the genitals, with the detained person sometimes undressed and/or handcuffed. Allegations of ill-treatment also included the banging of heads on a desk, blows with batons or other objects and violence of a sexual nature.

“In a few cases, the ill-treatment alleged was of such a severity that it could be considered as amounting to torture.”

The report added: “The risk of ill-treatment appeared to be particularly high in respect of foreign nationals, the conditions under which many of them were being detained were entirely unacceptable and could, in some cases, be regarded as inhuman and degrading.”

The report highlighted the case of one foreign detainee, who claimed that during an interview at the Central Prison, he had been severely ill-treated. “The first alleged incident consisted of punches and kicks to the face, chest and abdomen. The detainee further alleged that, during the night, he had been made to undress and had, while in a standing position, been hooded and shackled by the wrists and ankles to bars in the police prison, whereupon police officers had hit him violently on various parts of the body, including his genitals.”

In its response, the government said the allegations had been investigated by the police and presented to court, both by the police, as well as by the testimony given by the detainee. “These allegations did not stand in Court; therefore, he was later sentenced to life imprisonment for conspiracy in a murder and car-arson.”

In general terms, the report urged the Justice Minister “to reiterate to all police officers the obligation to respect the Constitution, international human rights conventions and Cypriot law, impressing upon them that the ill-treatment of persons in their custody is an affront to the values which constitute the very foundations of the State, and will not be tolerated.”

The government replied that police were regularly reminded of their obligations and that police ethics were a key element of basic training, adding that a number of initiatives against discrimination had also been undertaken.

“Police attempts to limit citizen ill treatment,” it added, “are not limited to proactive measures, such as training, dissemination of information, circulars etc. All allegations of police ill-treatment are investigated and where appropriate the police take disciplinary measures against its members who seem to be involved in such violations.”

Pointing to a fall in the number of cases brought to the attention of police, the response added: “It is obvious that there is a reduction is cases involving human rights violations, and this can be attributed to the fact that police officers receive a more consistent training on protection of human rights, and of how to perform their duties in a humanitarian and professional manner.”

The situation was much better regarding conditions in the actual prison, with prisoners on the whole happy with their relations with the staff and enjoying “generous out-of-cell time”.

The main problem was the “rampant overcrowding” in the Nicosia Central Prison: “An overcrowded prison causes cramped and unhygienic accommodation, a constant lack of privacy, reduced out-of-cell activities, overburdened health-care services, and increased tension – and hence potentially more violence between prisoners and between prisoners and staff.”

In its response, the government said it was addressing the problem and that work would begin shortly to improve facilities, promising to fulfil the requirements concerning the size of cells and the living space per prisoner set out in the Prisons Regulations.

Moving to the Athalassa Psychiatric Hospital, The CPT’s delegation found no deliberate ill-treatment of patients, except for one particular patient who was considered potentially dangerous. At night he was kept in a special individual room with a metal, prison-like door. There was no toilet within the room and, as the patient was not allowed to leave his room during the night, he was obliged to use a slop bucket in order to comply with the needs of nature. A bed was later installed in the room after the CPT’s visit.

Treatment within the facility consisted mainly of psychotropic drug therapy. This therapy was used appropriately, the report said.

The CPT also recommended the development of an individualised therapeutic programme for each psychiatric patient, which involves appropriate medication and medical care, a wide range of rehabilitative and therapeutic activities.

The delegation found that establishments for children taken into care by the Social Welfare Services are running well without any means of ill treatment, and meet the needs of the children in a suitable manner, the report said.

The CPT is scheduled to return to Cyprus for a regular visit during the course of this year in order to review the situation.

(Source: Cyprus Mail)

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