After a three and a half hour-long meeting of the cabinet, Prime Minister Huseyin Ozgurgun, spoke about the issue of holding religious services in churches in the North.
Ozgurgun said that religious freedom is respected in the TRNC within the framework of a secular state and that the state protects the right of everyone to observe their religion.
Arguing that there has been a “serious and deliberate increase” in demands made by Greek Cypriots to hold religious services in churches in the North, Ozgurgun said that for this reason, the government had re-evaluated the process of granting permits for such services.
Noting that some churches have been turned into “political symbols”, Ozgurgun said that “as long as the current non-solution exists, the need for taking measures on these issues has emerged”. He added that this did not mean that religious freedoms are limited and added that the arrangements were implemented because freedom of religion has been used as a means of political exploitation.
Ozgurgun outlined the new criteria for which a permit for religious services in churches in the North will be granted as follows:
“The religious service is to coincide with an important religious day, the physical location of the church for which a permit is requested to be such that the safety of the people is not threatened, the church is not to be used for any other purpose and the church is not located in a military zone”.
Furthermore, Ozgurgun pointed out that the TRNC has never politically exploited the limitations imposed by the South Cyprus government on religious practices by TRNC citizens in the South. He added that the issue “will take the place it deserves on the agenda” in case there are practices against the rights of citizens who cross over to the South for religious purposes, limitations at places of worship and if political initiatives continue.
Elsewhere, Erkut Sahalli, deputy of the Republican Turkish Party-United Forces (CTP-BG) addressing the Assembly, said that it was very important to try and implement Confidence Building Measures (CBMs). He added that it is also essential that the two communities respect each other’s religious and cultural activities. The government should standardise its regulations on religious practices and also called it a pity that this kind of ruling should be put in place, as it was contrary to the spirit of the Cyprus negotiations.