In the course of the visit, the CPT’s delegation examined the treatment of persons detained by the police (including immigration detainees) at nine police stations, and the effectiveness of the formal safeguards against ill-treatment which are available to such persons. It visited the Menoyia Detention Centre and the holding facilities at Larnaca Airport where it examined the situation of irregular migrants deprived of their liberty. At Nicosia Central Prisons, the CPT’s delegation reviewed developments since 2008, including the use of force, the situation of juveniles and female prisoners, the provision of healthcare, discipline and activities. It also examined the treatment of persons and reviewed the safeguards in place at Athalassa Psychiatric Hospital and the Inpatient Unit for Adolescents at Archbishop Makarios III Hospital, and at Nea Eleousa Institution for persons with severe mental retardation and the Latsia Institution for teenagers.
The visit report and the government response have been made public at the request of the Cypriot authorities and are available on the CPT’s website: www.cpt.coe.int.
Summary of the visit report and response
The report highlights that the CPT’s delegation received a number of allegations of physical ill-treatment by police officers, mostly in respect of foreign nationals. The alleged ill-treatment occurred after apprehension, during transportation or in the context of interviews at a police station; it consisted primarily of slaps, punches and kicks to the head and body. The allegations mainly concerned members of the Immigration and Aliens’ Police (YAM) and of the Crime Investigation Department (CID) and in a few cases the delegation was able to gather medical evidence that was consistent with the allegations. In addition, a few patients also alleged police ill-treatment during transportation to Athalassa Psychiatric Hospital. The CPT recommended that the Cypriot authorities firmly remind police officers that any form of ill-treatment of detained persons is not acceptable and will be punished accordingly. Further, the CPT underlined that where it is deemed essential to handcuff a person at the time of apprehension or during the period of custody, the handcuffs should under no circumstances be excessively tight and should be applied only for as long as is strictly necessary.
The report states that certain safeguards to prevent ill-treatment could be strengthened, notably the right of persons held in police custody to enjoy in practice the possibility to meet and speak in private with a lawyer from the very outset of deprivation of liberty. Further, with regard to access to a doctor, detained persons should not be systematically handcuffed when transported to a health-care facility and medical confidentiality should be respected. As regards the conditions of detention in police stations, the report criticises the holding of persons for several days or more in police stations designated as suitable for periods of up to 24 hours only. Further, the CPT calls upon the authorities to review the system of remand detention on police premises with a view to substantially reducing its duration (i.e. not beyond four days).
The response from the Cypriot authorities outlines action taken, including the creation of a Police Code of Conduct by the police in collaboration with the Ombudsman; an expanded mandate established for, and new Instructions issued by, the Attorney General to refine and expedite the procedure around addressing allegations of police misconduct and to strengthen the investigatory process.
As regards foreign nationals detained under aliens’ legislation, a number of allegations of physical ill-treatment and verbal abuse of detainees by custodial staff at the Menoyia Detention Centre were received. The report refers to allegations of the inappropriate use of tear gas within the Centre and the Cypriot authorities are asked to put in place comprehensive procedures concerning the use of tear gas. Recommendations are also made to reduce the official capacity of the Centre, to introduce a range of purposeful activities and to develop the role of the staff. In addition, the lack of health-care resources is criticised as well as the lack of a systematic medical assessment upon admission and medical confidentiality.
More generally, the CPT recommends that irregular migrants are no longer detained in police stations but in the Menoyia Detention Centre which has been specially designed with the intention of meeting their specific needs.
The CPT’s delegation met two unaccompanied minors held in police stations for prolonged periods in conditions akin to solitary confinement. The Committee recommends that unaccompanied children, who are deprived of their liberty as a last resort, are only held in centres designed to cater to their specific needs, staffed with properly trained men and women and offering a range of constructive activities. Further, all unaccompanied minors should be provided with a guardian. The CPT also recommends that women with children are only detained in exceptional circumstances, as a last resort for the shortest possible time, and that the primary-carer and the child should be accommodated together in a facility catering to their specific needs.
The response from the Cypriot authorities states that detention orders will not be issued to single mothers with children under 8; all minors will undergo medical age assessment tests and will be hosted in suitable establishments or in the care of Social Welfare Services. Information is also provided in respect of the Menoyia Detention Centre.
As regards Nicosia Central Prisons, the report calls upon the Cypriot authorities to adopt and implement a coherent strategy to combat overcrowding as the main part of the prison held 523 inmates for only 324 places. Relations between the staff and prisoners were generally positive. Nevertheless, a few allegations of physical ill-treatment (punches, kicks and baton blows) by staff were received, notably in relation to the ending of a peaceful protest by inmates on 15 August 2013. At the request of the CPT, the authorities initiated an independent investigation into the incident. The report is also critical of the practice of prison officers carrying out cell searches wearing hoods and bearing no means of identification. As regards the conditions of detention, recommendations are made to ensure that not more than one person is held in a cell of 7m² and that vigorous steps are taken to increase the range of purposeful activities for inmates, particularly for young offenders and juveniles.
In their response the Cypriot authorities outline the new procedures put in place to tackle the issue of ill-treatment. In relation to juveniles, the authorities highlight the introduction of specific training for those staff working with juveniles and mixed-gender staffing throughout various areas of the prison. As regards visits, the CPT welcomes the Cypriot authorities’ decision to offer all prisoners open visits, with closed visits only being imposed for security-related issues.
The report makes also recommendations to improve medical screening of newly arrived prisoners, medical confidentiality and the recording of injuries. Further, in light of the numerous incidents of suicide and self-harm, the report recommends that a comprehensive suicide and management approach is introduced. In their response the Cypriot authorities state that the requirements for a medical screening examination of every prisoner within 24 hours of arrival and for a single comprehensive healthcare record for each prisoner have been introduced. Additionally, the authorities highlight the imminent introduction of a trauma register and special injuries form. The response further specifies that the authorities have taken a series of suicide prevention measures, including the preparation of guidelines, training of staff and the establishment of a wing for vulnerable prisoners.
As regards the psychiatric institutions visited, some complaints of physical ill-treatment by staff were received, consisting of slaps, verbal threats and other disrespectful behaviour in the male chronic and male admissions’ wards at Athalassa Psychiatric Hospital. Recommendations are made to improve patients’ living conditions, to review the use of certain types of medication, to increase staffing levels, and to strengthen the safeguards and policies surrounding the use of seclusion and means of restraint. Further, involuntary placement and discharge procedures should grant patients more rights, and measures should be taken to ensure the Mental Health Supervisory Committee fully complies with its mandate. In their response, the Cypriot authorities provided some information on the steps taken to address these recommendations.