Turkish-Cypriot Police Raid Christian Church During Christmas Service
Police officers of the Turkish-Cypriot government entered a Greek-Orthodox Church in Rizokarpaso on December 25th 2010 and forced the priest to stop the Christmas morning liturgy. They coerced the priest and worshippers attending liturgy to leave the church and then locked its doors.Turkish police claim to have stopped the Christmas service of Hagios Synesios because the priest had not obtained prior permission to conduct the service. The Greek-Orthodox Church objects to this allegation and states that permission was requested at the beginning of December.
The government plans to take the issue to the UN and the EU. “The act of the occupation regime to stop Christmas Day mass in Rizokarpaso is totally unacceptable and reprehensible,” said spokesman Stefanos Stefanou, “This action constitutes a violation of basic human rights such as the right to exercise freedom of religion.” Stefanou said the government had already taken steps to involve the EU and the UN.
On Jan 3, 2011, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) stated its concern regarding the incident. “It is wrong and a symbol of religious intolerance and repressive policies of the Turkish Cypriot authorities supported by Turkey’s occupation troops to require such a small church community to seek permission to hold Christmas Liturgy,” said Commission Chair Leonard Leo.
According to the Cyprus Mail, French Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that France “particularly regrets” the interventions on Christmas Day by the Turkish military. France appeals respect for the right to freedom of religion and belief, including the freedom to worship, as defined by article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
On Jan 20th, the European Parliament condemned the incident in a resolution: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P7-TA-2011-0021+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN&language=ENThe Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a Recommendation in 17 points on "Violence against Christians in the Middle East“ on January 27, 2011. The recommendation mentions the incident in Cyprus on December 25th, 2010: "[T]he Assembly calls on Turkey to clarify fully the circumstances surrounding the interruption of the celebration of Christmas Mass in the villages of Rizokarpaso and Ayia Triada in the northern part of Cyprus on 25 December 2010 and to bring to justice those responsible.“
For further information please follow these links:
U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF): http://www.uscirf.gov/news-room/uscirf-in-the-news/3505-1052010-international-groups-condemn-halting-of-christmas-liturgy-cyprus-mail.html